Oceans provide fundamental ecosystem services, including food provision, weather regulation, and cultural significance [1
]. In particular, fisheries support livelihoods and provide food security for billions of people worldwide [2
]. However, more than 34% of fish stocks are overexploited, and 60% are fully exploited [3
]. Additionally, fisheries are increasingly coupled to global dynamics, and influenced by pollution, international market fluctuations, ocean acidification, and other drivers of anthropic degradation, which can hinder sustainability [4
]. Concomitantly, an important proportion of the world coastal population are in a situation of poverty, illness, and malnutrition [7
]. The conservation and sustainable use of marine organisms is fundamental to achieve equity and human wellbeing in the 21st century [10
Transforming from unsustainable pathways towards novel forms of management that ensure sustainable and equitable access to ecosystem services in the oceans is a critical challenge [11
]. To achieve this, the United Nations calls on the international community to implement an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF), which considers the complex interrelationships between fisheries and marine and coastal ecosystems, with social and economic dimensions [13
]. The purpose of EAF is “to balance diverse societal objectives, by taking account of the knowledge and uncertainties about biotic, abiotic, and human components of ecosystems and their interactions and applying an integrated approach to fisheries within ecologically meaningful boundaries” [14
]. Accordingly, the EAF promotes sustainable development of the oceans, ensuring the provision of ecosystem services for humanity in the long term.
The EAF is widely advocated internationally to promote the sustainable management of fisheries [3
]. Fundamental principles of the EAF have been agreed in a series of international conferences (e.g., Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in 1995, Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine 2001, Sustainable Development Goals in 2015). The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have both proposed key guiding principles to achieve an EAF (Table 1
]. These principles draw attention towards the protection of biological and ecological systems, the social impacts of natural resource use, the integration of scientific and traditional knowledge, as well as towards an understanding of stakeholders’ interests, motivations, and values [14
]. However, the implementation of EAFs is a complex process, which presents significant national challenges [12
]. Countries have experienced difficulties in operationalizing the fundamental concepts and dimensions of EAF into action plans, as well as in identifying and prioritizing specific progress and gaps for action [20
Government agencies are active spaces where knowledge is generated and practiced, which can contribute to face the challenges of implementing the EAF [24
]. Fisheries managers and government officials hold valuable information to support decision-making [25
]. They actively use this knowledge to implement policies and projects [24
]. This type of knowledge has been termed bureaucratic, which arises within administrative or civil service bodies [26
]. Bureaucratic knowledge is eminently practical and used on a daily basis to identify and prioritize problems, as well as to explore solutions [27
]. Bureaucratic knowledge involves expertise to analyze the consequences of decision-making and to identify gaps and challenges for public policy [25
]. Therefore, bureaucratic knowledge is key to anticipate and identify gaps in the implementation of EAF.
Chile is one of the top ten global capture producers in the world, with more than 2 million tons in 2018 [3
]. In 2013, Chile enacted Law N⁰ 20,657, which modified the General Fisheries and Aquaculture Law (GFAL), introducing substantial amendments to the administration of fisheries. The GFAL recognizes the conservation and sustainable use of resources as a fundamental objective, establishing that its application will be done through the precautionary principle, an ecosystem approach to fisheries, and the safeguarding of marine ecosystems in which these resources exist. In 2016, at the request of the government of Chile, FAO conducted a review of the GFAL, recognizing advances in the new regulatory framework and highlighting as a critical challenge the need to advance in the application of the EAF [28
]. Accordingly, the implementation of EAF in Chile provides an opportunity to use bureaucratic knowledge in identifying gaps and leverage points for the implementation of EAF at national scales.
In this article, we evaluate the current state of EAF in Chile, identifying key dimensions that ought to be prioritized in the short and medium term to promote the institutionalization and implementation of the EAF principles. We used public officials’ knowledges, which was understood as a reliable platform of information for the Chilean experience. While our study focused on the implementation within Chile, it provides valuable insights for other countries attempting to transition towards EAF.
The EAF is widely recognized as a strategy for sustainable management of marine resources, which integrates the multi-dimensional components of social-ecological systems [14
]. Countries face challenges in operationalizing the fundamental dimensions of the EAF, as well as in identifying advances and gaps that facilitate the institutionalization of sustainable management [12
]. Bureaucratic knowledge can play a critical role supporting informed decision-making [24
]. In Chile, bureaucratic knowledge is mainly available from government services responsible for implementing the EAF [34
]. Bureaucratic knowledge can reproduce and synthesize institutional learning, creating new forms of knowledge that guide decision-making and public policy design [24
]. Bureaucratic knowledge can allow for the aggregation of information of multiple dimensions, ecological, social, and economic, which emerges on the basis of practice, decision-making, and management [26
]. In order for this knowledge to inform EAF, it is critical to enable ways in which bureaucratic knowledge can be systematized and scaled to higher levels of decision-makers such as the heads of the agencies.
Our results show that fishery management officials interviewed have important and relevant knowledge for EAF implementation. They perceive important advances towards EAF since the amendments to the GFAL in 2013. Foremost among these is the fact that EAF was established as a mandatory requirement for fisheries management. They highlight that Chile has also regulated the by-catch and incidental capture of birds, turtles, and marine mammals, as well as banned trawling on 117 seamounts. They perceive that institutions responsible for fisheries management have more and better instruments to protect marine resources, establishing Maximum Sustainable Yield and Biological Reference Points as mandatory measures to control overexploitation. Fishers’ participation is promoted within Management Committees, which are constituted as inter-sectorial spaces to elaborate fishing management plans. Likewise, Scientific Committees allow the participation of scientists by setting catch limits for each fishery.
Despite advances, important gaps were also identified. In Chile, most of fisheries do not consider adjacent potential impacts associated with the use of different fishing gear, illegal fishing, and low compliance of rules. While the system has embraced the idea of EAF, in practice, fishery officials still perceive it is strongly oriented towards a monospecific fishery management approach exercised through individual quotas. With some exceptions, Management Committees are established for single resources, even in cases where the fisheries share the same habitat. Additionally, the inclusion of maximum sustainable yield, as the primary indicator for establishing quotas, is considered an advance in fisheries management [37
], but as currently implemented, omits the importance of species-environment interactions for population viability [38
The difficulties for implementing EAF can be explained by deep socio-political and institutional drawbacks, linked to relations of inequity, poverty, and distribution of benefits generated in the fishing system [12
]. In Chile, officials identified important limitations in capacities, linked to the availability of resources, coordination between institutions, and individual competencies to lead participatory processes. This is reinforced by a general crisis of confidence in Chile and Latin America towards formal institutions (political parties, authorities, religious institutions), which promotes the need to generate spaces for citizen participation in decision-making [40
]. Accordingly, the challenges of fisheries management go beyond the purely natural scientific aspects into the realm of the humanities and social sciences [41
Addressing the constraints identified by fishery officials can contribute to strengthen emerging paradigms in the governance of the oceans [10
]. The EAF proposes an approach to fisheries management that overcomes the disciplinary restrictions of perspectives focused solely on the resource and its ecological system [18
]. In Chile, this would provide solutions for the effective integration of, on the one hand, traditional and scientific knowledge, and on the other hand, of social sciences with natural sciences. The EAF involves an inter and trans disciplinary approach to fisheries management in which social, political, cultural, biological, and ecological dimensions must be analyzed under the lens of a linked social-ecological system [40
Officials highlighted serious difficulties to integrate social dimensions in fisheries management. In fact, struggling with a practical application of EAF has been common in different countries around the world [47
]. The implementation of the EAF is a human endeavor, with social and political challenge that reflect inherently interests and values [50
]. In Chile, the regulatory framework does not define a common framework and methodologies to include social objectives in management plans. Understanding the human components of fisheries requires a multidisciplinary approach, which has high economic and institutional costs [41
]. Similarly, the participation processes, promoted in the Management Committees, are hindered by the lack of preparation of the teams in charge to facilitate collective decision-making, without validated protocols for conflict resolution. Moreover, the facilitation of the Management Committees has generated an increase in the workload of public officials, who are exposed to stress and emotional wear.
Regarding institutional capacity, the major gap is a low effective coordination among the institutions responsible for fisheries management for the implementation of the EAF. Additionally, there is a low access to learning spaces for good practices among public officials. This is consistent with internationally reported capacity challenges [53
]. The challenge is to engage multiple sectors that have different roles in fisheries management, institutional and private, which in turn display different threats and risks to the sustainability of fisheries [48
]. In this sense, there is a call for a paradigm shift in the institutions to address the EAF, which certainly includes greater coordination among institutions, but also greater strengthening of stakeholder participation, and the ability to balance competing objectives [50
]. Moreover, a key element for institutional capacity building concerns the development of competencies in public officials in charge of implementing the EAF. In this study, we identified a risk related to work overload and stress due to facilitating participatory instances in the context of conflict. Resistance to change toward EAF has also been reported in the literature [48
A second critical element concerns the improvement of the regulatory framework. Currently, a variety of countries have made modifications to their regulatory bodies in order to incorporate the EAF principles, although with different nomenclatures and perspectives [56
]. For example, experiences in Canada [57
], Australia [58
], and the European Union [56
]. While the amendments to the GFAL included the EAF as a mandate, some gaps and omissions make it difficult to effectively implement it. A central improvement relates to the need to clarify the definitions and methodologies, such as participatory multi-criteria analysis for the inclusion of social components in the EAF [59
]. Especially in relation to the elaboration of the Management Plans, which emerge as one of the main tools for the application of the EAF in the administration of the fisheries for Chile. In this respect, definitions are required to establish clear social goals in the formulation of management plans.
Fisheries should transition towards multidimensional management approaches that consider a wide range of environmental, ecological, social, cultural, and economic challenges. This transition is riddled with obstacles, related not only to practices of over-exploitation of marine resources, but also to gaps in institutional capacities. Bureaucratic knowledge enables the identification of these gaps based on the experience of actors in charge of implementing the EAF. Thus, bureaucratic knowledge offers a possibility to improve policies and management strategies. Raising officials’ knowledge allows to prioritize efforts and strategies to implement the EAF, which has a relatively low cost for the institutions. Government services officials are a particularly valuable source of information for seeking solutions and opportunities to implement the EAF. However, bureaucratic knowledge needs to be systematized and raised in a structured way. Otherwise, it can reveal individual biases or political interests. Establishing clear protocols to systematize and generate formal instances to build upon bureaucratic knowledge seems a clear and cost effective way to advance in the effective implementation of the EAF.