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Ecological risk assessment for pressures that vary in time and space

Project Outputs

The assessment of ecological risk associated with marine industry activity and development is a key issue in providing advice to licensing authorities and planners in the marine environment. The MI provides such advice on a regular basis but methodology for assessing risk is not well developed and decision support tools that could provide cost benefit comparisons for different management scenarios are not available. For example, currently when MI is asked if a given activity could be licensed and where there is an existing competing activity or a number of new potentially competing activities the advice given is descriptive and qualitative.

In some cases, assessing ecological risk and advising on a management response to a given activity may be clear cut; its effect is benign and not a concern or its effect is significantly impacting relative to conservation targets and should not be licensed. Most cases, however, fall between these extremes. This is certainly the case for fisheries which may operate at various levels of intensity and where the duration of fishing is limited to certain seasons or time periods.

Over the past 10 years, advice on seasonal fisheries in Natura 2000 sites is based on the concept of ecological recovery following impacts of a short term fishery and thereby the avoidance of cumulative effects between fishing seasons. This argument also applies to fisheries that are persistent in time but where the spatial footprint of the fishery varies, also enabling some recovery between fishing events, even if this is by accident and not design. In fact, this variable footprint in space and time is evident in vessel monitoring system data for all fisheries. The problem of assessing risk in these cases reverts to parameterizing the rates of impact and recovery. From a population dynamics perspective, the form of the impact is expected to be a monotonic exponential decline as fishing pressure increases and recovery should follow a logistic function of population growth. The growth function at least is likely to be seasonally dependent suggesting that the timing of impact is important for recovery schedules. The existing literature and methodologies for risk assessment do not incorporate schedules of partial impact and recovery in an ecologically meaningful sense.

The project would take existing quantitative frameworks for risk assessment and add functions to incorporate effects of applying and withdrawing pressures over short time steps and to enable modelling of population responses to these pressure schedules. Developing these methods will allow us to incorporate them into decision support tools to allow for a more robust comparison between temporally and spatially explicit management measures. The project builds on work of the SEERAC project funded under the DAFM FIRM programme. It will also utilize improved fine scale data on fishing pressures being provided by EMFF project FL02 (Vessel Monitoring Systems for inshore fishing vessels).


This project will run in 2020 and part of 2021.

Project Outputs:

A new ecologically realistic methodology for assessment of environmental risk that can be incorporated into management decision support tools.

Expected Benefit:

Significant improvement in advice based on risk assessment methods. These methods are central to provision of advice in relation to Natura 2000 Article 6 assessments, MSFD Descriptors on pressures and impacts of seafloor integrity and design of MPA networks under MSP.

Further Information:
Contact Oliver Tully at
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