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Integration of fisheries into marine spatial planning: quo vadis?


While several scientific studies highlight the strong relation between fisheries and MSP, as well as ways in which fisheries could be included in MSP, the actual integration of fisheries into the planning process often fails. This paper reviews a high number of studies addressing a wide range of integration challenges (e.g. assessing where fishermen actually fish and drivers for fishermen's behaviour, seasonal dynamics and long-term spatial changes of commercial fish, effects of spatial competition on fisheries, projections on areas that might become important for fishing in the future) and examining how fisheries could benefit from MSP. According to the analysis it becomes apparent that the spatial and temporal dynamics of fish and fisheries, as well as the definition of spatial preferences remain major challenges. However integration of fisheries in MSP is already possible today.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the main challenges MSP has to deal with in integrating fisheries into the process?
  • What are approaches that can be applied to deal with such challenges both in the various phase of the MSP process (stocktaking, analysis of spatial aspects, development of the MPS plan, etc.)?

Implementation Context

Fisheries in MSP have only been evaluated to a limited extent, even while the concept of MSP has been promoted in various marine regions around the world over the last two decades. Several scientific studies highlighted the extensive relevance and significance of fisheries in MSP, but fisheries are usually not or not fully integrated into maritime spatial plans. While several studies proposed ways in which fisheries could principally be included in MSP, an often-cited argument for the non or partial integration is that data on spatial demands of fish and fisheries cannot yet be provided in a spatial and temporal quality adequate for MSP purposes This raises the question of the current state of knowledge on spatial demands of commercially important fish species and fisheries. 

Aspects / Objectives 

The main aim of the paper is to present an overview of the state of the art of approaches which seek to overcome fisheries integration challenges, by providing spatially explicit knowledge for the inventory, draft development and negotiation phases of MSP processes. The study has defined six sub-challenges on the integration of fisheries and MSP, and for each of them, progress is checked against the applicability in MSP practice.


In formulating a suitable methodology for the review, an initial conceptualization of the challenges in the integration of fisheries into MSP was undertaken:

MSP inventory phase:

  • Where do fishers actually fish (effort allocation)?
  • Which areas are more, which are less valuable for fishers? 
  • What locations do commercially important fish species need access to during their different life stages?

MSP draft plan development and negotiation phase:

  • Long-term changes in species and life stage distributions (e.g. due to climate change, eutrophication, etc.)
  • Effects of fisheries management (Common Fishery Policy, national policies, etc.) on MSP goals 
  • Effects of MSP and human maritime uses on fisheries. 

This structure laid the basis for a wide literature review (considering articles published between 2000 and 2015) with the aim to draw together information on the progress in research on the above-mentioned integration challenges and the applicability of scientific approaches in MSP practice.

The literature search led to more than 3,000 results with general relevance to the topic. Of these, 121 studies had higher significance for the integration of fisheries into MSP. Most of these were studies which focus on conceptual issues, aspects of stakeholder integration and participation, and details of interdependencies of ecosystem components or of human activities and fish stocks. 34 of these 121 studies were related to the above identified challenges. 

Main Outputs / Results

The paper identifies examples of approaches to overcome integration challenges, referring both to the “MSP inventory” and “MSP development and negotiation” phases, which are illustrated according to categories coherent with the above mentioned challenges (see the section on “Method”):

MSP inventory phase

  • Mapping fishing effort in space and time
  • Biotope identification
  • Long-term changes in fish distribution and fishing fleets
  • Designation of fishery management areas
  • Economic value of marine space

MSP draft plan development and negotiation phase:

  • Spatial dynamics and vulnerability of fish during different life stages
  • Effects of MSP and other human used on fleet behaviour

The approaches and case studies reviewed in the paper indicated that very often the presented tools, methods and models are still in a scientific stage and not directly usable by MSP management bodies. Most of the modelling approaches require large amounts of data, and not all of the data needed is always easily accessible. In addition, this kind of tool requires advanced modelling skills; some may even require access to supercomputing facilities. Spatial resolution is still a major challenge for the integration of fisheries and MSP.

Generally the reviewed studies gave insights into a number of more general issues in the integration of fisheries into MSP:

  • Space in not equally important to fish stocks and fisheries. Very often, MSP processes fail to identify those priority areas which are of increased relevance for fisheries or for fish species during different life stages. A planning area should be divided into subspaces to which different qualitative values of fisheries’ relevance need to be assigned to, e.g. values on the importance for relevant species during different life stages or on the relevance for fishing fleets.
  • How to define valuable areas? The question highlights that fisheries are often mainly understood as an economic sector, forgetting other important characteristics that in an MSP approach have to be included such as areas to which small-scale fishermen are most attached (which might not be of high value at the scale of the whole fisheries) or information on areas for recreational fisheries.
  • MSP’s responsibility for fisheries and fish stocks– if and how fisheries are integrated into MSP processes is also influenced by differences in how in general MSP is understood and approached, e.g. varying from lean zonation to comprehensive implementation of ecosystem-based ocean management.
  • Spatial dynamics and temporal dimension. Fish and fisheries, together with their management, can be highly dynamic in time and space. If a zonation scheme is set in stone, then fishermen can lose fishing grounds or access, in the case of a hypothetic shift in stock distribution, e.g. due to climate change. This touches the question of revision periods of MSP plans, which should occur with an appropriate time frame to take fishermen’s (and other sectors) changing requirement into account.


The paper provides an overview of approaches which can be applied in better integrating fisheries into the MSP process, both at the initial inventory phase and during the MSP plan development and consultation. 

Contact Person

Holger Janssen 

Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemunde (IOW) (Holger[dot]janssen[at]io-warnemuende[dot]de)

Responsible Entity 

Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemunde (IOW)

Costs / Funding Source

Some of the research leading to the results illustrated in the paper has received funding from the EU Union through the EC Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No. 266445 for the project “Vectors of Change in Oceans and Seas Marine Life, Impact on Economic Sectors (VECTORS)”. Additional research resulted from the BONUS BALTSPACE project (Towards Sustainable Governance of Baltic Marine Space), supported by BONUS (Art 185), funded jointly by the EU and by national research funding agencies in the eight EU member states around the Baltic Sea