The Selection Process for the Suite of Indicators

Joint Russian-Norwegian Monitoring Project
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The purpose of integrated management is to provide a framework for the sustainable use of natural resources and goods derived from the ecosystem and at the same time maintain the structure, functioning and productivity of the ecosystems of the area, in this case the Barents Sea. Several international agreements, such as the Oslo convention (1972), the Paris convention (1974), the Convention for Biodiversity (CBD, since 1992), conclude that the

ecosystems are to be managed in ways that provide sustainable use and maintenance of the ecosystem functions. Therefore all international collaborative institutions, like the North‐East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Arctic Council, and the EU‐countries are now moving towards monitoring, analysis and advisories for marine ecosystems instead of single species. Indicators based on measurable parameters of the ecosystem are being suggested, tested and tried out in most of new management plans and directives.

Role of Indicators and Environmental Objectives

The role of indicators is to provide data on the state of ecosystem components for the evaluation of the state and trends of the ecosystem as a unit. The present suite of indicators is meant to offer a wide range of information for all components of the Barents Sea ecosystem, including physical conditions and human activities and to help fill knowledge gaps.

To be valuable for the management, the indicators must have relevant environmental objectives where appropriate, to allow for evaluations of the registered trends and states. In this report, the aim is to present the indicators, selected for the joint Norwegian‐Russian monitoring project within cooperation on environmental protection.

Rationale behind Selection of Indicators: Description of Types and Priorities 

This list of suggested indicators resulted from two expert workshops and other meetings and discussions. Organization of the two workshops is described below. The process was built on experiences from the newly established ecosystem‐based management plan of the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea, as well as information from the Marine Framework Strategic Directive (MSFD) in EU-countries.

The first sets of Norwegian indicators for the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea were mainly state indicators describing climatic and biological states and trends. For the North Sea, as well as the MSFD process, it was realized that also pressure and impact indicators are needed to inform the sector managers on important drivers and pressures on the ecosystem. It is particularly important for the Barents Sea where there is a great potential for further industrial development and growing anthropogenic pressure.

Based on these experiences, it is suggested that this suite of common indicators for the Russian‐ Norwegian cooperation should have all three types of indicators:

  • (E) State indicator which describes the state (“the quality”) of part of the ecosystem.

A state indicator for the ecosystem component should provide a set of values along a timeline. Depending on the component, a reference level must be set, allowing the registration of deviations from the desirable level or state.

For management purposes this indicator should reflect the changes due to the anthropogenic influence, experienced by the ecosystem component in question. It is, therefore, important to obtain indicators that describe the state of species that are harvested, species that are dependent upon them, and by‐catch species, because changes in the state of such species are likely to be partly or wholly caused by human activities. A state indicator used frequently in fishery management is the weight of the spawning stock ("the spawning biomass") for commercial fish stocks, with a threshold value placed so that an enhanced risk of poor recruitment can be expected for spawning stocks below that level.

The physical part of the ecosystem (temperatures, salinity and currents) normally cannot be influenced by management responses, but indicators that describe the physical part of the ecosystem can give early warning of changes that will probably result in changes in the productive ability of the ecosystem and may also change the sensitivity of the organisms for other pressures. Early adaptation to such changes may be an important element in ecosystem‐based management in the future.

As a clean ocean is a precondition for consumers to have confidence in products harvested from the sea, it is important to have indicators that show whether the ocean is clean enough to permit production and harvesting of food and can provide warning of changes that put the quality of the harvested products at risk.

  • (A) Pressure indicator which describes the level and changes of human activities that affect the ecosystem. 

Human activities are what we are able to change through management responses. Such indicators typically used in fisheries management are catches and by‐catch statistics. Indicators of this kind may give early warning of possible negative changes for a population, before the effects have had time to accumulate and they can be detected, in turn, in the state indicators.

  • (I) Impact indicator which describes changes that can be traced back to human activities in part of the ecosystem.

However, serious changes in the ecosystem frequently are not caused by human activities alone – more often, they are a result of human activities together with changes in the physical part of the ecosystem (temperatures, currents, etc.). This type of indicator is therefore often difficult to interpret, but it is useful in combination with other types.

A priority range has been set for the suggested indicators. The priority levels used in the report are:

  • Essential

These are indicators considered as absolutely essential for monitoring state of the ecosystem. These indicators are necessary to be able to evaluate changes within the ecosystem components and experienced pressures and impacts.

  • Recommended

Expert advice implies that these indicators will highlight some additional connections or influences, or will help to gain a better picture of the state of the ecosystem.

  • Suggested

These are indicators or parameters that are not monitored now but should be, in expert opinion. However, in light of financial or personnel shortages they are presented as suggested – to be included and monitored if possible.

Role of and Rationale for the Selected Indicators

The main expectation of any indicator is that it is meant to show important changes over time in the ecosystem, and the main purpose of initiating the project was to develop a joint monitoring programme that reflects the level of anthropogenic impact on ecosystem due to the increasing level of human activity. There are in general four basic elements making up for the ecosystem‐based management that are the underlying base for the selection of indicators. These four elements are:

  • Defining the environmental objectives and goals
  • Collecting data
  • Evaluating the relationship of the state of ecosystem components
  • Mitigating the failure to reach environmental objectives

These four elements are discussed in more detail below:

  • Defining the environmental objectives and goals

The environmental goals should be based on defining anthropologically related pressures. Management is directed towards human activities and therefore the goals must be related to what it is possible to actually manage through regulations of such activities. Indicators need to be selected in order to actually show how anthropological activities have impacts and how these impacts change with the level of these activities. It has been found difficult to separate between natural and anthropogenic pressures. Still, the series of suggested indicators are expected to reflect, at least partially, ecosystem responses due to changes in levels of human activity.

Some indicators included in the list had environmental objectives defined earlier, but for some newly adopted indicators, the environmental objectives remain to be established. This topic was partially addressed during the Murmansk workshop in the spring of 2014.

  • Collection of data to describe the state of a particular ecosystem component

In order to collect time series for the developments of ecosystem related indicators, data need to be collected in a coordinated, comparable and systematic manner to achieve data series that are clearly related to the environmental goal to be achieved.

The data collected must be comparable between sampling crews, locations, seasons and years. It takes decades to build data time series long enough to minimize for the noise of natural variation and gain sufficient limitation in uncertainty in the trends shown by the data series. For many of the suggested indicators, long time series are already available.

However, in some instances sampling techniques differ between the Norwegian and Russian practices and possibilities for coordination and standardization of methods will have to be further addressed.

Developments in survey technology and improved equipment for monitoring lead to continuous considerations for improvements of data collection methodology. For instance, satellite technology should be wider implemented for monitoring and as such will be used in this joint project to provide valuable information.

  • Evaluate the relationship of the state of ecosystem components

With sufficient data series collected in space and time, the actual state of each component can be analysed and compared to the environmental goal. This can be done through mathematical assessments of the trends and variations of the indicators, by themselves and in relationship to each other, and over time. Additionally development of a range of models are being done world‐wide with the aim to provide the assessed state with reliable model calculations on how these states may develop in selected scenarios predicting future states.

Once the joint programme is in place and operates with the standardized data collection practices, it will be possible to utilize models for assessments, predictions and sustainable management of the Barents Sea resources.

  • Mitigation of failure to reach environmental objectives

An important element of management plans should be implementations of measures to be taken if and when the state of the components does not reach the objectives. However, at this stage this issue is not relevant.

The best scientific knowledge has been used when preparing the following list of indicators.

The indicator can be one set of data time series, a selection of parameters which together will make up for one indicator or each parameter can further include sub parameters where necessary. Our understanding of the integrated ecosystem process and trends as well as pressures and impacts from anthropogenic activities is still limited.

Organisation of the Expert Workshops

The two expert workshops for selection of indicators were held in Tromsø in November 2011 and March 2012, respectively. Both workshops were attended by several institutions from both the Russian and Norwegian side. The following institutions were represented at the two workshops (number of persons from each institution in brackets):

  • November 2011: PINRO (2), Sevmorgeo (2), MMBI (1), AARI (1), VNIIPrirody (1), WWF Russia (1), IMR (5), NPI (6), DN (1), KLIF (1), NERSC (1).
  • March 2012: PINRO (2), Sevmorgeo (3), AARI (3), MMBI (1), VNIIPrirody (1), RAS Shirshov's Institute of Oceanology (1), Ecoproject (1), WWF Russia (1), IMR (8), NPI (8), Klif (1), NERSC (1).

At the first workshop, the group of experts worked with identifying suggestions for indicators that could be included. In the time period leading up to the second workshop, the expert group worked with these indicators, identifying in more detail how each indicator should be developed, the type of data that would be required and data sources. At the second workshop, the expert group selected the indicators that should be included in the further process and also suggested how each indicator, parameter and sub parameter should be prioritised. This list was then sent out a hearing to relevant Russian and Norwegian institutions.