The S&T objectives of the FACTS project are:
1. To quantify the trophic interactions between forage fish and the prey and predators, establish levels of competition between forage fish species within each case study region, and assess the impact of climate change on FACTS forage fish within European waters.
2. To quantify ecosystem responses to perturbations from human activities especially fisheries impact and environmental change.
3. To provide cost-benefit analyses and cost-effectiveness analyses of perturbations on forage fish populations, either through fishing or from predators (sea birds and marine mammals).
4. To develop case study specific and generic advice for ecosystem-based fisheries management of forage fish populations in European Seas.
FACTS will develop and disseminate advice on the consequences of various forage fish harvest strategies to the ecosystem including their economic implications. FACTS research focuses on seven forage fish species (anchovy, herring, capelin, Norway pout, sardine, sandeel and sprat) that are a major natural resource to the European community and represent key elements in the functioning of marine ecosystems. FACTS will eliminate critical gaps in knowledge that currently exist concerning the impact of variations in forage fish populations (due to various drivers such as climate and fishing) on the trophodynamic structure and function of different European marine ecosystems. To accomplish this goal, FACTS will answer the following questions:
- What are the major short- and long-term drivers of changes in commercially and ecologically important forage fish populations within European waters?
- What are the biological and economic consequences of changes in forage fish populations in terms of their prey, their competitors and their predators?
- What are the biological and economic consequences of changes in predator populations on forage fish populations and their fisheries?
- What is the role of forage fish species in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem stability?
FACTS research is conducted within four regional Case Studies (Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, Bay of Biscay, and North Sea) to provide gradients in biodiversity and climatic impact. These gradients enable cross-ecosystem comparisons of biodiversity and stability in relation to variations in forage fish populations. A fifth, modelling Case Study provides a necessary second route to cross-ecosystem comparison by examining the generic principles governing interactions between forage fish population dynamics and ecosystem responses.
Moving beyond extensive process knowledge, FACTS will develop new operational models that estimate the biological and economic tradeoffs associated with various exploitation strategies of forage fish stocks in major European fisheries. Moreover, as the main providers of advice on forage fish in the North Atlantic, FACTS partners are also able to translate these model outputs into urgently needed advice on how best to move beyond the single-species approach of current fishery assessments and adopt ecosystem-oriented management. The FACTS project is thus addressing major research objectives set forth by the revised Common Fisheries Policy, the Marine Strategy Directive (2008/56/EC) and EU Marine and Maritime Research Strategy