Since the publication of the COM Dec 2010/477/EU on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters, several workshops/working groups have taken place regarding Descriptor 3, providing useful input for the further MSFD implementation and constituting important opportunities to learn what is going on in Member States and in the International Organizations involved (ICES and GFCM). Reports from the workshops can be consulted and downloaded from:

This document aims at promoting a coherent and harmonious implementation of the Directive; focusing on methodological questions related to a common understanding of the technical and scientific implications of the MSFD.

ICES has identified four steps for the assessment of MSFD Descriptor 3 (EU, 2010), on the draft recommendation for the assessment of descriptor 3 (also referred to as D3 - all commercial fish and shellfish). These steps describe a logical framework for the evaluation of good environmental status (GES) for commercially exploited fish and shellfish stocks. In brief these fours steps are presented below with a short summary to what they comprehend

Selection of Stocks
Step 1 - Prepare a list of commercially exploited fish and shellfish stocks in the relevant marine region, to be used for the assessment of Descriptor 3, and provide the rationale for the selection of stocks.

Descriptor 3 applies for all the stocks covered by the Data Collection Framework (DCF) as described in Council Regulation (EC) No. 199/2008 (within the geographical scope of Directive 2008/56/EC) and similar obligations under the CFP.

The recommendations for the selection of the stocks, as complimentary decisions to the DCF list of stocks, are:

  • 1. The Member States' lists of commercial stocks should first be derived at the MSFD (sub-regional) level, by including stocks that are assessed at the international level.
  • 2. In addition to the internationally assessed stocks, there may be several fish and shellfish stocks that are important for small-scale/local coastal fisheries on a regional or national scale. Member States should identify these stocks and add them to their national list.
  • 3. It should be ensured that the list set up in accordance with point 1 and 2 covers a very high proportion of the landings (e.g. >90%) in weight.
  • 4. The selection of stocks based on the ranking of the landings by weight (or commercial value) should be applied using the longest available time-series in order to also include depleted stocks that in the past had much larger landings. Extirpated species should not be included but would be covered under Descriptor 1.
Catalogue, document and available information for each of the stocks selected for the Descriptor 3 assessment
Step 2 - Catalogue and document the available information for each of the stocks selected for the Descriptor 3 assessment.

For the selection of commercial fish and shellfish stocks in the relevant marine (sub)region, assign each stock to one of the six ICES stock categories and collate either the MSY reference points or the MSY proxies for undertaking the Descriptor 3 assessment. For stocks in Category 6, i.e. negligible landings stocks and stocks caught in minor amounts as bycatch, evaluate whether each stock should be assessed under Descriptor 3 or more appropriately, under the biodiversity Descriptor D1, when the level of catch has historically been low. If low catches are likely to be due to low stock abundance, the stock should be considered under Descriptor 3.

Regarding Mediterranean and Black sea Regions, the Technical guidance on monitoring for the Marine Stategy Framework Directive has recommended the same approach to be taken for the Mediterranean and Black Sea Regions, by using either the same stocks categorization or a different one but by defining the analytical approach to be applied with increasing range of uncertainty according to decreasing data availability.
Evaluate the stock status against the three GES criteria mentioned in EC Decision
Step 3 - Evaluate the stock status against the three GES criteria mentioned in EC Decision 2010/477/EU (EU, 2010), i.e. criterion 3.1 (level of pressure of the fishing activity), criterion 3.2 (reproductive capacity of the stock), and criterion 3.3 (population age and size distribution) by stock and species-functional group (i.e. pelagic, demersal/benthic, shellfish, elasmobranch, deep-water).
Step 4 - Determine the overall status and identify issues, problems, gaps, and links to other MSFD descriptors (e.g. D1 - Biodiversity and D4 - Foodwebs), together with any additional monitoring needs.
The document is based on previous work by ICES, the discussions at the two workshops, the outcome of the CFP reform, the application of the precautionary principle and the results of the MSFD Article 12 report.

The Regional Seas Conventions (RSCs), under their regional strategies, have also developed indicators; although with different approaches. According to the MSFD the Regional Sea Conventions are playing an increasing role on coordinating effort between EU Member States and third countries for the MSFD implementation