Welcome to the inaugural edition of our EuroMarine Researchers in the Spotlight series, where we engage in captivating conversations with prominent researchers within our network.

We sat down with Marta Coll, researcher at the Institute of Marine Science (ICM–CSIC) in Barcelona, to discuss her experiences leading the EuroMarine Foresight Workshop: “Advances in fisheries science: using ecological models to inform current fisheries advice”, which addressed the need to move fisheries management towards an ecosystem-based approach.


The need to move fisheries management towards an ecosystem-based approach has been increasingly recognized internationally, and several countries have advocated for, and in some cases formally adopted, an Ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) strategy (Pikitch et al., 2004). Yet, current fisheries management in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters is still mainly based on advice from single-species stock assessments. Modern stock assessment is continuously evolving towards providing the best possible technical support to fisheries management, but many issues remain unresolved (Maunder, & Piner, 2015). Among them is the need to consider (1) both environmental and trophic relationships for a more holistic view of the marine resource’s dynamics; and (2) predict possible long-term effects of management actions under climate change scenarios accounting for the derived uncertainty associated with model and drivers data; and (3) take into account the ecosystem spatial heterogeneity.

Ecosystem models can overcome some of the stock assessment shortfalls by a spatially explicit integration of biological processes with environmental effects and multiple human stressors.

While considerable work has been conducted to develop spatially explicit ecosystem-based management tools, they are not integrated into official advice and management of marine fisheries resources and are not aligned with the assessment processes. Few attempts have been made to bridge the gap between single-species stock assessments useful for tactical management and ecosystem models aimed at understanding the overall and long-term consequences of fisheries strategies (Howell et al., 2021). A crucial step towards successful fisheries management, therefore, encompasses the development of hybrid approaches that bridge the gap between traditional stock assessment models and spatial ecosystem models.


The foresight workshop (FWS) recognised the need to bring together experts in both stock assessment and ecosystem modelling to conceptualize how these challenges should be addressed.

It aimed to discuss practical cases around the connection between stock assessment models and the Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) food web modelling approach. Additionally, it aimed to give overarching recommendations for the field of ecosystem modelling in general, considering the expertise of participants with other modelling approaches (e.g., Atlantis, Osmose, species distribution models, management strategy evaluation strategies, etc.).


Marta Coll is a researcher at the Institute of Marine Science (ICM–CSIC) in Barcelona, Spain. Her research focuses on understanding patterns and processes that characterize marine ecosystems and, in particular threats to marine biodiversity. She studies community and food-web dynamics linked with human activities (such as fisheries, eutrophication, invasive species and climate change), and how these translate into changes in ecosystem structure and functioning.

EuroMarine: Could you briefly explain what the term “ecosystem-based approach” means in relation to fisheries management and introduce the research topic that your Foresight Workshop focused on?

It's great to be here today, and I'm really glad and grateful to you, Romalin, for inviting me to the podcast, but also for supporting my research in the past and present. So, basically, this workshop aimed to bring together different researchers who work on fisheries and fisheries management in Europe, looking at fisheries from an ecosystem perspective.

What does it mean? It means that when you try to understand what's happening with a resource, like a fish stock that you're exploiting, there are different angles to consider. You can focus solely on the specific species you're studying, like European hake. However, you can also add complexity by considering the surrounding environment where the hake lives, its predators, its prey, and other activities aside from fishing that may impact the hake population.

So, this approach involves looking at fisheries from an ecosystem perspective, where you consider all elements of the ecosystem in managing fisheries.

How did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the advancement in the domain of ecosystem based management? Did it help bridge the gap between ecosystem modeling and the management of marine fisheries resources?

What the workshop really aimed to do is bring together people who work in fisheries management or assessments and bring different perspectives to the table. So, we brought together people who work in single species approaches and people who work in multi-species or ecosystem approaches.

The idea was to create a dialogue among all of us, not to decide which one is better because here the question is not about which approach or way of looking at things is better, but how different approaches can complement and help fisheries management. It was very interesting because we had people who had worked purely in stock assessment, who obviously have an interest in and acknowledge the importance of including other ecosystem elements when looking at these issues, and people who purely work from the ecosystem perspective.

So, the first aim was to bring these two communities or types of research together and then establish a dialogue. The first thing we did was have presentations on what stock assessment entails, what kind of challenges and limitations there are, and the same for the multi-species perspective. What does it mean to work from the multi-species perspective? What kind of data, challenges, and limitations are there?

Having these two main bodies of knowledge on the table, we then started discussing the different approaches and things being done in different regions because Europe is large and different countries manage fisheries differently. So, we wanted to learn how things are done in different regions within the European context.

EuroMarine: That's very interesting. And a small follow-up: So, you were basically researchers. Did you invite any policymakers, or would that be a next step?

That would be the next step. Many of the people who attended the workshop, although they are scientists, as you correctly pointed out, participate in management discussions because they are national representatives in various groups like stock assessment groups or evaluation analysis groups. They are quite used to interacting with managers and know very well what managers need from the fisheries management perspective.

So, we were researchers but not totally isolated from the real world. We were able to put into perspective why we need these tools to manage fisheries and what the needs are from the fisheries management perspective. It's true that scientists sometimes are great at inventing and deploying many interesting tools, but sometimes we don't realize that these tools may not be of interest, may be too complicated, or may be very difficult to communicate outside our community.

EuroMarine: What were the main outcomes that emerged from your Foresight Workshop? How did these outcomes provide new insights into the topic?

So basically, in the workshop, we had this first part where we all explained how we approach the topic and our work. Then, we had the second part of the workshop where we conducted a questionnaire. We asked everybody in the workshop and some experts who couldn't attend but were identified as key figures working strongly and innovatively in the field.

We asked them about the advantages of bringing together the two communities of ecosystem and stock assessments, as well as the limitations they perceived and the challenges hindering this integration. Additionally, we discussed what should be prioritized once we start integrating these approaches.

We compiled the responses from the questionnaire and presented the preliminary results in the workshop. Then, we discussed what was said by all of us and identified points where there was general agreement and areas where different groups had contrasting views. There was a very interesting discussion about the limitations.

The workshop was co-organized with Maria Grazia Penino, a colleague from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (EO). Now, we are writing a paper about how the communities perceive we should bridge the gap between the two approaches and start working together to provide better advice for fisheries.

EuroMarine: Did this 3-days Foresight Workshop lead to any follow-up actions or collaborations? Have you applied for additional funding to further develop your research?

We're currently in the phase where several of us are working on projects, and there are some projects being applied for. Unfortunately, sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't, so we have to wait and see. The workshop took place in 2022, so it's still relatively recent, at the end of 2022. What has happened is that several of us are trying to collaborate on projects. Hopefully, we'll find the community engaging, perhaps in a European project or in different research platforms that we can continue. That's always a challenge, isn't it?

These workshops allow you to meet, think, and create something together, but then the follow-up, where you find the funding to push for what you've identified needs to be done, is something that requires more time and presents new challenges. So, we're in the process, but I know several people are applying for projects.

One very important outcome that I think is relevant is that the two communities need to know each other and create bonds. We need to know who is doing what and really establish connections between the two communities so that next time there's an opportunity, we can apply for funds together. One very interesting thing is that we have a latitudinal gradient in Europe, with Northern and Southern Europeans, and differences between the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions. We realized that things are done slightly differently in these regions, so some standardization or finding common ground is needed because we can't have different approaches in different regions. That would be messy. This is what's happening right now because we don't realize what the communities are doing. We're hoping that by creating this dialogue, we will move towards stronger collaboration and joint activities.

EuroMarine: You’ve already briefly mentioned the paper earlier, were there any other publications coming out of this or have you published a peer-reviewed article, or any other form of scientific publication based on the research discussed in the Foresight Workshop?

There were several papers or works that people were developing or considering developing that have made progress. For example, from the ecosystem perspective, one of the limitations we face is the complexity of the analysis because we're considering many factors. So, we've had extensive discussions about how to assess uncertainty, evaluate these models, and validate them with data. This area of research has made significant advancements this year. A couple of papers that were presented during the workshop are now published and have benefited from our discussions, although they were already in the pipeline. One focuses on fitting models to historical data, which was recently published, and there are additional contributions in the pipeline that address specific topics highlighted during our workshop and the challenges faced by the two communities.

Another interesting issue is that while we develop many tools and approaches, managers often need something different. Collaborating and discussing with fisheries management about their needs is crucial. While we'd like to see full ecosystem-based assessments being applied, the reality is that the community is still focused largely on stock assessments. Convincing managers to adopt an ecosystem perspective in fisheries management is challenging. We need to continue this parallel effort of advancing research while also persuading managers of the importance of an ecosystem approach. This involves participating in meetings with managers, demonstrating what we can do, and slowly conveying the message that an ecosystem approach to fisheries is essential because there's often a gap between what is being said and what is being done.

EuroMarine: Looking back, how would you assess the overall impact of the Foresight Workshop on your research and career? Did it open up new opportunities, enhance your visibility, or lead to further collaborations beyond the initial workshop?

Well, from my perspective, I really liked it because I was able to talk and interact with people that it may have been more difficult to do otherwise. We develop research in different communities, and workshops like these create opportunities to connect with people who may not be doing exactly what you are. EuroMarine funding is great for that. It brings together people you want to collaborate with or discuss specific topics. For me, the greatest aspect was getting to know some people who are really good at what they do, particularly those in stock assessment, as I am an ecosystem modeler. It was fantastic to talk to them, understand their perspectives, and learn from a new community. I knew these people from reading their papers and seeing their names, but I hadn't had the opportunity to discuss with them in person. So, bringing people together is definitely an asset of these workshops.

As for EuroMarine's contribution to my career, I've been involved in organizing four of these workshops, and they've all been extremely interesting and successful. The first one, held in South Africa, focused on biodiversity changes from a large perspective, including European and African regions. We discussed available data and patterns in marine biodiversity, which led to the development of a community. Now, we have a PhD student working on the same topic, using data contributed by participants from that workshop.

The second workshop, held in France, was about developing future scenarios of ecosystem change, which was ahead of its time. Although we didn't publish a paper, we created a community that has since been working on scenarios development and applying them in different projects. The third workshop, held in Barcelona, focused on improving temporal and spatial ecosystem models, resulting in a publication and keeping the ecosystem modeling community together.

Overall, the four workshops I've led or helped lead have contributed greatly to my past and present research. They've opened up new collaborations and opportunities and have been instrumental in shaping my career.

EuroMarine: What advice or suggestions would you give to future Foresight Workshop leads in terms of maximizing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop?

I think at the beginning, I was maybe a bit too optimistic or I just wanted to do a lot of things in these workshops. Then you realize that as much as you want to do a lot of things, there's a specific time frame, and probably focusing a little bit more on what you want to achieve from the workshops and having one main objective that you want to achieve is crucial. Maybe having a second objective that you may achieve is great, so prioritizing what you want from this workshop is probably a good idea.

I would also suggest that one of the points that could be valued when evaluating proposals is the involvement of early-career scientists in the organization, not just in participation. I know they already participate and can participate, but in the organization of the workshops. It's essential for early-career scientists to start organizing scientific activities and gain experience from contacting others, welcoming them, helping run the workshop, and following up. It's a great opportunity for them to understand the challenges involved in organizing such events, which require various skills from contacting people to managing resources to writing scientific content. They could gain a lot of experience from that.