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What Is an ISO 14000 Approach to Marine Ecosystem Sustainability?  
Legitimacy for Fostering an ISO 14000 Series Protocol
Applications of the International VEMS Standard
ISO Releases ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 Revision 2004
Concluding Comments
References Cited
List of Appendices
List of Acronyms

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-195

A Large Marine Ecosystem Voluntary Environmental Management System Approach to Fisheries Practices

Frank J. Gable
NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 28 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882

Web version posted April 3, 2006

Citation: Gable FJ. 2005. A large marine ecosystem voluntary environmental management system approach to fisheries practices. NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 195; 64 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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This study addresses interdisciplinary aspects of fisheries sustainability as a part of the large marine ecosystem (LME) modular approach. Consideration is given to consensus-based voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) as an adaptive management aspect of fishing practices being integral strategic parts of marine ecosystems. A VEMS is a unique means or tool for managing the impacts of a fisheries enterprise’s activities on the marine environment. For sustainable planning and implementing environmental protection measures, the VEMS provides a structured approach. A VEMS integrates environmental management quality at various scales into an organization’s everyday operations as well as its long-term planning.

The VEMS is an important “ecosystem consideration” component of the LME approach as it is intended to lead toward improved valuation assessments and movement to sustainability of vulnerable resources. This document presents a VEMS strategy as a prospective best practice indicator in the fish and fisheries, socio-economic, and governance modules of the LME paradigm (see Prospective property rights regimes are considered as performance-based regulations that restrict open access to commercial fishery resources but can accommodate the VEMS approach. The fisheries practice VEMS, found in this study, has a geographic focus on the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME but is applicable to other domestic and/or international locales and it is meant to promote dialogue on VEMS being a scientifically based (or best available science standard see: NRC 2004a) tool for ecosystem-oriented management of living marine resources.


The ISO 14001 is a known voluntary international standard that establishes the requirements for a VEMS that emphasizes an organization’s continuous improvement in environmental management quality and protection.  Thus, the objective is for an entity engaged in fishing practices to constitute a VEMS that is integrated with its operations.  An ISO 14000 series voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) is portrayed in this document as a performance-based measure that can be utilized around the world and as a best available science-based procedure for protecting the marine environment.  Hanna (2002 p. 4) hypothesizes that the “existence of property rights (in fisheries) would allow the focus to shift toward performance-based regulation, where the right to fish depends on certification of meeting specified conditions.” Taken literally, a review and synthesis of the science literature finds that Hanna’s hypothesis above which would include “dedicated access privileges” in a U.S. fishery is capable of fostering performance towards sustainable ecosystem-approaches to fisheries, that is, to an ISO 14001 standard voluntary environmental management system (VEMS).

Gober (2000 p. 8) points out “modern synthesis is organized around ideas, concepts and theories.  It emphasizes discovering strategic connections…,” “it may involve linking already discovered ideas in innovative ways, in grappling with large and complicated human and natural systems, and in looking for analogies in seemingly unconnected fields.”  Thus, it is proffered that the application of voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) as outlined here will lead toward continuous improvement in large marine ecosystem environmental quality as a science policy tool for fostering stakeholder participation toward sustaining living marine resources.  The document commences with an overview of what a voluntary VEMS approach to ecosystem sustainability encompasses.  From there the focus is on “legitimacy” of specific VEMS protocols for use in living marine resource sustainability principally in the United States prior to elaboration on the international VEMS standard known as an ISO 14001.

Case examples are provided in Appendix One, in relation to “market forces” in American fisheries management, including contemporary herring-haddock interactions in the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem.  The Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) paradigm is briefly reviewed as an adaptive stewardship strategy in Appendix Two, followed by a short discussion on the Marine Stewardship Council as another “new” VEMS in fisheries.  An approach to  “certification” in VEMS is given in Appendix Three.  The manuscript contains figures and tables that illustrate and highlight specific key points and concepts for the reader.

One suggestion for integrating marine species management into a workable ecosystem-oriented voluntary environmental management system (VEMS), can include partnering to maximize the potential for achieving objectives (see Figure 1).  To enhance global, regional, or local accountability, a marine life management system should recognize and address the overall ecosystem (see: Sherman & Duda 1999a&b; von Zharen 1998 p. 106). Dobson et al., (2005 p. 488) refer to “human dimensions” “as the study and practice of human values related to natural resources, how those values impact and are manifested in management, and how humans affect or are affected by natural resources management decisions” (see also: Hennessey and Sutinen, 2005).  “Challenges of integrating ecological and human dimensions of management remain as important today as they were forty years ago” (Dobson et al., 2005 p. 487).  The human dimension is at the very core of the fishing and seafood industries (Kaplan and McCay, 2004 p. 258).  It is also of note that according to Daily et al., (2000 p. 396) “in a democratic society, values used in social decision-making ought to be derived from those held by its individual citizens and ought not be imposed by the state.” The ISO 14000 family of standards is depicted and  elaborated herein as a tool to foster voluntary and sustainable human-environment interactions.


The International Organization for Standardization ISO 14000 series is a recognizable developing flexible methodology for organizations seeking to incorporate internationally and/or domestic defensible environmental management policy into their marine business operations.  The ISO is a Geneva-based registered non-governmental, international organization and facilitator of international standards in industrial and environmental practice.  Its members are governmental standardization organizations from 120 nations, including the United States.  Motivated to foster world trade after World War II, it was created in 1946 to initially address electronic, communication, trade, and manufacturing standards.  Traditionally, ISO standards are embraced on a voluntary basis, yet select countries have regularly adopted them, thereby making them obligatory (Sproul, 1998a and 1998b p. 141).

From a historical perspective Sproul (1998b p. 141) relates that in the early 1980’s ISO branched out to develop total quality management standards and life cycle analysis.  In 1987, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued the ISO 9000 series standards for business management and manufacturing (Eccleston, 2003 p. 61; see also Benezech et al., 2001).  Concern for environmental quality eventually led ISO to focus and negotiate on developing similar standards for a transparent voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) that could be used internationally.  Thus building on the ISO 9000 model, the initial generic standards governing the ISO 14000 series VEMS were adopted and published in September of 1996.  Analogous to its sibling ISO 9000, the ISO 14000 series describes management procedures rather than specific environmental performance standards (Eccleston, 2003 p. 61).  Aspects of ISO 9000 have subsequently been incorporated into international policy to “facilitate trade and remove…barriers” (Sproul, 1998b p. 141).  In 1992, the ISO Technical Board authorized establishment of Technical Committee number 207 (TC 207).  This bureau whose secretariat is in Ottawa with the Canadian Standards Association, was tasked with the responsibility to oversee and coordinate the diversity of activity associated with international voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) development. In 1993, the ISO established a Technical Committee (TC207) that consisted of representatives from participating nations the world over, to develop and produce a set of unified, voluntary standards for environmental management that could be accepted and implemented worldwide (Quazi et al., 2001 p. 526).  The ISO 14000 standard has been developed to help any organization (entity) in any country to meet the goal of “sustainable development” and environmental friendliness (Quazi et al., 2001 p. 527), important ingredients in LME-oriented fisheries science policy. The ISO has accumulated extensive inter-governmental and ministerial networking at the national policy development level and has considerable historical international standardization experience.  Therefore, many international researchers and also American policy makers (see: Connaughton, 2002a; and 2001) suggest or advocate an ISO 14000 protocol ought to be pursued (see later).

The ISO 14000 standards are international voluntary consensus standards (Quazi et al., 2001 p. 526).  These industrial practice standards were developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), located in Geneva, Switzerland.  The goal of the ISO is to develop standards on a worldwide basis to allow commerce to transcend national boundaries without creating trade barriers  (Quazi et al., 2001 p. 526).  This is a goal that complements and can be practiced within the internationally recognized large marine ecosystem  (LME) delineated areas whose marine living resources are typically marketed and traded via negotiated international agreements, since international trade in seafood is now valued at about U.S. $60 billion annually (Mansfield, 2003 p. 1).  The standards are process oriented they do not in and of themselves impose or establish goals or limits.  Instead, they establish voluntary environmental management system guidelines or guidance that help organizations (entities) ensure compliance with customer, industry or regulatory limits and/or requirements.  They can be considered “rooted in the concept of ecosystem sustainability” (see Baragne, 2003 p. 196) and criterion for “best practices.” (see: e.g. Sainsbury et al., 2000 p. 732).  According to von Zharen (1998 p. 85), she notes that the VEMS must have public and prospectively global support in order for comprehensive measures to improve these efforts.  This would include support for international collaboration in marine scientific research and the development of “best practices.” (e.g., Sainsbury et al., 2000; Sainsbury and Sumaila, 2003; Gable, 2004).

According to Sainsbury et al., (2000 p. 732), fishery management is “implemented at the operational level through management plans, administrative regulations, and the decisions of individual managers or management bodies.”  Choices and tradeoffs often need to be made concerning which of several alternative management actions provides the best social and environmental compromise among conflicting objectives.  Therefore it’s necessary to be able to forecast the likely consequences of prospective management actions to the targeted objectives. This may entail answering questions such as: what specific outcomes are intended by the management action?; what information is needed to support management decisions?; and how would success or failure be measured and detected (Sainsbury, et al., 2000 p. 732)?

Broad policy goals are linked to individual management actions at the operational level, and through operational management strategies.  Sainsbury et al., (2000 p. 732; Figure 2, Figure 3) suggests that the general framework for operational management strategies is described in many standards, such as the International Standards Organization ISO 14000 standards for environmental management systems.  Accordingly, they suggest the ISO 14000 and other such frameworks emphasize the combination of: A) synoptically evaluating the performance of the management system as a whole (not just isolated parts); B) specifying measurable targets and performance measures that relate to the objectives; C) monitoring the managed system; D) iterative and “feed-back” decision-making based on monitoring data e.g. “double loop analysis;” E) developing a procedure for implementing management decisions; and, F) evaluating organizational environmental performance.

“Development and evaluation of operational management strategies to achieve broadly stated management objectives is neither easy nor straightforward, although considerable progress has been achieved during the last two decades, at least for target species.  The scientific methods for evaluating fishery-management strategies were advanced through ‘adaptive management’ mechanisms” (Sainsbury et al., 2000 p. 732 and references cited therein).  It is noted that Jentoft (1998 p. 181) proffers that there is no “consensus as to what constitutes relevant knowledge and information in fisheries management.  Neither is there any widespread agreement on goals or means.”

The aims of the ISO 14000 series are to provide guidance for developing a comprehensive approach to environmental management and for standardizing some noteworthy and recognizable environmental tools of analysis such as (environmental) labeling and life cycle assessment applicable to the fishing industry as a whole. Allison (2001, p. 945) writes that an ISO 14000 series VEMS is capable of addressing many of the necessary conditions for ‘green chain’ life cycle-oriented certification from production to disposal (see also Sproul, 1998a&b).

The standards are meant to be complementary to national regulatory regimes and are not intended to replace or duplicate a country’s regulatory system (Quazi et al., 2001 p. 527).  In effect, use of a VEMS is designed to demonstrate an organization’s facilitation and knowledge of environmental sustainability commitments in a transparent documented manner.  Thus, the ISO 14000 series VEMS traditionally consists of five principles as depicted in Figure 4.

The most commonly used framework for a VEMS is the one developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the ISO 14001 standard.  Established in 1996, this framework is the official international standard for a VEMS (EPA, 2005). The five main stages of a VEMS, as defined by the ISO 14001 standard are discussed below (see also Figure 4):

  1. Commitment and Policy:  top management (e.g. fisheries permit holder, boat captain, vessel owner, executive director of a fisheries organization) commits to environmental improvement and establishes an enterprise wide environmental policy with attainable objectives and goals.  The policy thus becomes the foundation of the VEMS, and the benchmark for performance evaluation that occurs later.
  2. Planning: by example, a fisheries organization first identifies environmental aspects of its operations.  Environmental aspects are those items, such as indirect and regulatory bycatch, discards, highgrading, etc., which can have detrimental cascading impacts on the large marine ecosystem.  In general, the organization then determines which aspects are significant by choosing criteria considered most important by the organization within the constraints of applicable prevailing legislation.  For example, a fisheries organization may choose crew safety and health, environmental compliance, and cost as its criteria.  Once significant environmental aspects are determined, an organization sets specified objectives and targets.  An objective is an overall environmental goal (e.g. minimize bycatch and discards).  A target is a detailed, quantified requirement that arises from the objectives (e.g. reduction of bycatch of groundfish by 25% by September 2006). The final part of the planning stage is devising an action plan for meeting the targets (e.g., Wu and Hunt, 2000).  This includes designating (crew) responsibilities, establishing a schedule and timeline, and outlining clearly defined steps to meet the targets (EPA, 2005).
  3. Implementation:  an organization follows through with the action plan using the necessary resources (human, financial, etc.).  An important component is organization – for instance crew training and awareness for all hands, or employees of a fish processing plant.  Other steps in the implementation stage include documentation, following operating procedures, and setting up internal and external communication lines for interested stakeholders and consumers or publicly traded company shareholders. Then the enterprise using “best available scientific” methodology (see e.g. NRC 2004a) evaluates its environmental performance to see whether its objectives and targets are being met.
  4. Evaluation and Monitoring:  an organization monitors its operations to evaluate whether its targets are being met, if not, the organization takes appropriate adjustment corrective action (e.g. avoiding areas of juvenile fish or in-season spawning grounds; gear adjustments). Oftentimes for more efficiency the evaluation is performed by an independent accredited third party, that can lead toward “certification.”
  5. Review:  top management reviews the results of the evaluation to see if the VEMS is functioning as designed.  Management determines whether the original environmental policy is consistent with organizational values.  The action plan is then revised to optimize the effectiveness of the VEMS.  The review stage creates a double loop of analysis of continuous improvement and learning for an organization in a transparent fashion (see also Benezech et al., 2001; Figure 5). The cycle (i.e. “double-loop analysis”) repeats, and continuous improvement occurs, all within a framework of adaptive management to government regulations and industry “best practices” (see e.g. Sainsbury et al., 2000; Sainsbury and Sumaila, 2003; Gable, 2004).

According to Eccleston and Smythe (2002 p. 2) one objective of the ISO 14000 VEMS series is to provide organizations with an internationally consistent system for controlling, measuring, and ultimately reducing the environmental impacts generated by their ongoing business operations.  It may also help managers to better implement fisheries catch permitted or allocation mechanisms in a more environmentally sustainable manner.  Without further specific elaboration here, by example, ISO 14001 specifications describe a multitude of elements that need to be contained in any VEMS that is to receive certification to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards.

Like its predecessor sibling, ISO 9000 life cycle standards, the 14000 series focuses on management standards, not on specific performance standards and procedures because these are left to individual countries or entities, that can adaptively apply them to their specific needs and environmental situation.  This would work well in differentiated boreal, temperate, tropic, oceanic, and semi-enclosed LME’s throughout the world.  Unlike Environmental Impact Assessment/Analysis (EIA), the ISO 14001 VEMS protocol was designed specifically for competitive entity’s (see also: Hart, 1995)  to adopt on a voluntary basis (Eccleston and Smythe 2002 p. 2).

According to Darnall (2001, p. 2) ISO 14001 is based on Shewhart’s (1931) “plan, do, check, act” model towards achieving continuous improvement (see also Blackburn, 2004; Figure 6).  Darnall emphasizes that by using this framework, organizations systematically take into consideration their environmental aspects and impacts.  They do so, as depicted earlier, by taking into account five broad factors: an environmental policy, evaluation and goal setting, implementation, monitoring and corrective action procedures, and management review.  By processing through each step of the cycle the aim (goal) of the organization (entity) is to achieve lower environmental impact of goods, products, services, or information, thus, providing for environmental sustainable ecosystem development.  It is represented graphically as a circle or wheel (see Figure 4) because it involves repeating the same steps over and over in a continuous effort to improve operational processes.  It is akin to “double loop analysis” that Olsen (1999; Olsen et al., 1998) subscribes to in integrated coastal area management (for suggested contents of an ecosystem area management plan for sustainable fisheries see Table 1).  Organizations which certify to ISO 14001 typically would have independent external auditors review and verify their VEMS to make sure that it conforms to the five broad categorical factors (Darnall, 2001 p. 2).

At a more advanced level, ISO 14001 VEMSs have the potential to move organizations towards embracing, for example, seafood product stewardship principles and utilizing life-cycle cost analysis (Brown and Sylvia, 1994).  In doing so, ISO 14001 may help firms to better scrutinize the environmental impact of their services, and develop closer working relationships with ownership and “crew,” thus elevating and evaluating environmental concerns throughout the organization (Darnall, 2001 p. 3; Hart, 1995).  If entities consider holistically all aspects of their organizational structure, this awareness may facilitate the prevention of shifting environmental harm from one subsystem to another or rather, one directed fishery to another non-permitted resource.  Such management practices, however, require proficiencies in transferring knowledge and generating momentum among human capacity to proactively manage their environmental footprint.  The example of alleviating incidental and regulatory bycatch and discards by fishing vessels is a prime statutory contemporary example (Powers, 2005; Hall and Mainprize, 2005).  From the perspective of Jennings and Zandbergen (1995 pp. 1040 & 1041) they also require an ability to push environmental initiatives deep into the organization’s “lessons learned psyche” to create congruence (harmony) across the strategic, structural and learning systems to foster and ensure ecosystem sustainability.  These factors in combination assist business to achieve greater organizational efficiency (Hart, 1995 p.988) and are critical for achieving proactive environmental sustainability.  They are also crucial in assisting organizations (firms) to maintain or gain competitive advantage (e.g. Hart, 1995 p. 987; Figure 7) especially in regulated industries such as fisheries where “dedicated access privileges” may become the 21st century norm in the United States (CEQ, 2004); what Hart (1995 p. 995) refers to as “preferred access” to important, but limited resources.

As many of those who follow the regulated fishing industry know, the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations provide detailed requirements for performing a comprehensive analysis of direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts (see e.g., Eccleston and Smythe 2002 p. 6; Boling, 2005).  The ISO 14000 standards requires that a VEMS includes investigation of significant “environmental aspects,” which are specific activities that affect the marine environment.  Although these environmental aspects must be determined, rigorous evaluation of their resulting consequences or impacts on environmental resources is neither mandatory nor required especially in a scenario style command and control regulatory framework environment.

Eccleston and Smythe (2002 p. 8) proffer that in practice, however, there is no reason why Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and VEMS processes either could or should not proceed in tandem (see also Boling, 2005).  The aim or goal being a properly integrated EIA/VEMS, to ensure that monitoring plans are effectively designed and executed. (Eccleston and Smythe 2002 p. 8).  Monitoring is also a paramount tool in LME science policy to measure environmental conditions over time (see; e.g. Sherman, 1994; Sherman and Duda, 1999a & b).  Integration of EIA/VEMS is especially appropriate where government decisions are required, and where government (or government-regulated) enterprises will carry out the operations.  The EIA (e.g. Figure 8) can identify the kinds of significant impacts that a VEMS should address, and the VEMS can then ensure that adequate monitoring, reporting, and self-correcting take place in a transparent mode. (For another view of the EIA see Gray, 1999).

Eccleston (2003 p. 61) maintains that strong parallels exist between the scope, aims and objectives of adaptive management, the requirements of the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the specifications for implementing an ISO 14000-consistent VEMS (see Figure 9, Figure 10).  Seymour and Ridley (2005 p. 322) proffer that an ISO 14001 VEMS approach can be synergistically incorporated into an integrated catchment or watershed management protocol, which is in effect, the linked “landward” portion of large marine ecosystems.

Boling (2005 p. 10026) advises that a “VEMS is a policy and management approach that may be particularly applicable for adaptive management of actions subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review” in the United States.  Boling (2005 p. 10026) emphasizes that the “plan-do-check-act/continual improvement approach (see also Darnall, 2001 p. 2; Rondinelli and Vastag, 2000 p. 501) used by ISO 14001 and similar models has proven to be effective as applied to environmental management” (see Figure 6).  With regard to elements of VEMS and NEPA programs an ISO 14001 protocol “provides a credible framework for identifying and meeting the legal and other obligations that are established through the public process.  It does not pretend to intrude upon authorities of government agencies to define goals for environmental performance.”  Thus, an ISO 14001 VEMS does not replace NEPA, but rather provides a systematic framework for effectively identifying and meeting NEPA obligations (Boling, 2005 p. 10026).  Boling (2005 p. 10029) states that the ISO 14001 standard “requires that an organization establish and maintain procedures for taking action to mitigate any impacts caused, and for initiating and completing corrective and preventive action.”  The “plan, do, check, act” approach of ISO 14001 is intended to encourage organizations to integrate a VEMS into their normal every-day activities (Boling, 2005).

The ISO 14001 VEMSs are principled on a highly systematic framework that at a basic level focuses on various environmental strategies which minimize waste and prevent pollution (e.g. including fisheries driftnets i.e. ghost fishing; bycatch, discards and highgrading) (Darnall, 2001 p. 3).  These strategies are people intensive, and depend upon concerted skill development through employee or “crew” involvement (e.g., Hart, 1995 p. 988) and work in teams (e.g., Hart, 1995 p. 989).  They also rely on substantial internal organizational evaluation, monitoring, knowledge development, and operational factors (Darnall, 2001 p. 3, Hart, 1995).  They are a “best practices” match for organizations (entities) with either fishery business operations or scientific study in large marine ecosystems (see: Sainsbury et. al., 2000 p. 732; Sainsbury and Sumaila, 2003; Gable, 2004).  In effect, they fit well within the LME modular approach (see e.g. Figure 11, Figure 12, Figure 13; Sherman, 2005; Sherman and Duda, 1999 a&b) with a focus in the socio-economic, fish and fisheries, and governance modules.

According to Sproul, (1998a&b) an international organizational standard (ISO) framework ought to be utilized for developing broad principles of sustainable fishery certification, within which fishery specific specifications could be provided.  He maintains that several standards for fisheries principles exist, for example, including the voluntary United Nations (UN) “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries” (see: Garcia, 2000), and the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks which entered into force in  2001 (Sproul, 1998b p. 140).  The latter is an adjunct to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982).  The “voluntary” United Nations based 1995 “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries” and the International Standardization Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) ISO 14001 voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) protocol provide a baseline and standards “that are based on an inventory of what exists (in science, technology, experience and usual practices, etc.) in relation to some observations” (Benezech et al., 2001 p. 1396).  It can be argued that the “Code of Conduct…” may be considered to be emerging international customary law (see Belsky, 1990; Belsky, 1985).  To facilitate global large marine ecosystem (LME) acceptance and implementation of “sustainable fisheries (and aquaculture) principles,” they ought to be framed within a broad purview of environmental management system standards (Sproul, 1998b p. 140).


The movement from concept to an applied standard should stand the test of legitimacy.  In the U.S., the presence of legitimacy is discussed by James L. Connaughton who is the present chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (a bureau that coordinates federal environmental efforts in the development of environmental policies and initiatives).  Connaughton (2002a p. 2) mentions the “U.S. government has been an ardent supporter and believer in the international standards process, and specifically, the ISO 14000 family of environmental standards.”  He emphasizes the “ISO 14000 series of standards … provides recognizable, transparent, and flexible models and tools for managing environmental issues.  These international standards have been developed by consensus of a world-wide collection of experts, and allows us to operate effectively without having individual government entities create their own protocols and guidelines.”  Further, he reiterated that U.S. federal agencies must use existing international standards instead of creating their own requirements or standards because the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, (passed in March of 1996; Public Law 104-113) mandates that as policy (Connaughton 2002a; U.S. Congress, 1996 a&b).

Zwight (2004, p. 35) highlights that in the United States The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act “requires that federal agencies adopt, where possible, technical standards developed by consensus organizations.  The ISO 14000 series of environmental standards were developed through the consensus processes of the International Organization for Standardization and were adopted by the American National Standards Institute.”  “Environmental management systems’ can provide a structure for effective adaptive management of natural resources and continual improvement of environmental performance. Environmental management systems’ could help new science and information to be quickly integrated into the analytical base to be used not only to account for broad management effects and natural events at the plan level but also to provide a refreshed and current base of information” to be used in connection with fishery planning where an “environmental management system approach has been endorsed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)” (Zwight, 2004 p. 33).

The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995, which passed on March 7, 1996 (Public Law 104-113), codified requiring federal agencies to adopt and use standards developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies and to work closely with those organizations to ensure that the developed standards are consistent with agency needs and with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119 (House Report No. 104-390 Legislative History; Public Law 104-113 Section 12: Standards Conformity).  OMB Circular A-119 was revised on February 10, 1998 to coincide with Public Law 104-113 of March 7, 1996.  OMB Circular A-119 policy in Section 6 states “[A]ll federal agencies (or other establishment of the Federal Government) must use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government unique standards in their government and regulatory activities except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.”  Section 6(e) mentions “when properly conducted, standards development increase productivity and efficiency in government and industry (e.g. Bodal, 2003), expand opportunities for international trade, conserve resources, improve health and safety, and protect the environment.” (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 1998, see:, online available May 14, 2005).  von Zharen (1995 p. 12) highlights “there is today a seemingly unlimited potential for noncompliance with marine and coastal resources environmental regimes because these regimes are a patchwork of sometimes overlapping and contradictory law.”

Early experience in the U.S. with voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) was legally required for federal agencies via Presidential Executive Order 13148 of April, 2000 (Presidential Documents, 2000).  The Order included tacit reference to ISO 14001 (see: Environmental Protection Agency 1996, – Code of Environmental Management Principles Federal Register Vol. No. 61 (201) at p. 54062, October 16, 1996)… “or use another alternative environmental management system, e.g. ISO 14001.”  Pilot initiatives posited through or by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that this bureau encouraged use of VEMS, and ISO 14001 as “the predominant model, as the foundation tool for best management practice efforts” when organizations seek enhanced environmental performance through voluntary mechanisms (Connaughton, 2002a p. 3).

“The administration is committed to greening the government (Executive Order 13148 of April 21, 2000) and ensuring that Federal agencies do seek to minimize harm to the nation’s natural resources.  The Clean Marina program is an existing voluntary partnership between the Federal government, states, and private marinas that promote state certification of marinas that practice good environmental stewardship in areas such as pollution prevention and waste management;” it also may be applicable in recreational (for-hire; party/charter) fisheries.  Executive Order 13148 of April 21, 2000 (Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management) has as one of its goals (Part 2, Section 201) the development and implementation of environmental management systems.  Part 4 Sec. 401 of said Order requires that “each agency shall conduct an agency-level environmental management system self assessment based on the Code of Environmental Management Principles for Federal Agencies developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (61 Federal Register 54062, October 16, 1996) and/or another appropriate environmental management system framework.”  The Code of Environmental Management Principles by the EPA (Federal Register Vol. 61, No. 201 pp. 54061-54066, October 16, 1996) specifically makes reference to ISO 14001 voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) as another alternative environmental management system that is endorsed to be used1,2,3,4,5 (see also Figure 5).

Connaughton (2002a p. 4) posits the viewpoint that use of the ISO 14000 family of standards including the “environmental performance evaluation guidance documents will be very helpful in our effort to develop relevant environmental indicators and relevant metrics.”  Because “ relevant” marine environmental indicators (metrics) exist within the modular large marine ecosystem (LME) framework used throughout the globe and, since autumn 2004 the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Regional Seas Programme is officially “linked with Large Marine Ecosystems assessment and management,” use of an ISO 14001 VEMS is compatible as part of this new partnership (see e.g. Connaughton 2002a; UNEP, 2004; Laffoley et al., 2004; Sherman, 2005).

Under Presidential Executive Order 13366 of December 17, 2004 – Committee on Ocean Policy – functions of the committee provides for “voluntary regional approaches with respect to ocean-related matters (including natural resources) (sec 4(d)(ii), perhaps this could include an ISO 14001 VEMS “voted” for by a regional fishery management council for select fishery management plans seeking an ecosystem-oriented approach to sustainability.  Another committee function is the “use of science in establishment of policy on ocean-related matters” (sec 4(d)(iii)) (Presidential Documents, 2004a; see also Presidential Documents, 2004b).  The large marine ecosystem (LME) paradigm is a science-based approach to the assessment and management of living resources that considers the human dimension in meeting policy challenges in an adaptive manner (see: e.g. Hennessey and Sutinen, 2005).

“The United States will promote, within the United Nations Environment Program’s regional seas programs and by international fisheries bodies, the use of the Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) concept as a tool for enabling ecosystem-based management to provide a collaborative approach to management of resources within ecologically bounded transnational areas.  This will be done in an international context and consistent with customary international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” (U.S. Ocean Action Plan, December 17, 2004 see:; CEQ, 2004; see also Belsky, 1985).  “Our policies will encourage innovation and employ economic incentives over mandates where possible.”  And, “the Administration will continue to work towards an ecosystem-based approach in making decisions related to water, land, and resource management…” An immediate and long-term action highlight is to “work with regional fisheries councils to promote greater use of a market-based system for fisheries management.” The Ocean Action Plan facilitates the establishment of a “new interagency working group on ocean resources management” whose functions would include identification of “opportunities for improvements in the application of science for ecosystem-based management of ocean resources.”

In the United States, the administration is “encouraging market-based incentives to adjust harvest capacity in a fishery can help end the race for fish, improve product quality, enhance safety at sea, and make fishing operations more efficient, ultimately improving the livelihood of those who depend on them” (CEQ 2004).  It is also noteworthy that the Coastal Zone Management Act system is a “voluntary” program between the federal government and the states with many incentives for participation offered by the federal government.

Stated objectively “both in concept and practice, the environmental management system approach meshes well with the Administration’s management objectives.  It provides the platform for meeting federal stewardship goals as well as the management tools to measure and improve performance against these goals” (Connaughton, 2002a p. 4).  Connaughton (2004 p. 4) points out by reference “state and local governments in the U.S. also are very interested in environmental management system, with many both incorporating support of the use of an environmental management system by the regulated community, and they themselves implementing an environmental management system” (see for Northeast U.S. examples: Swift, 2002 and Connecticut, 1999).

In Massachusetts under Executive Order 438 of July 23rd 2002 “state sustainability program” the State Sustainability Coordinating Council “shall collect, maintain, evaluate and disseminate best environmental practices being undertaken by individual state agencies to promote sustainable environmental practices and procedures throughout all state agencies” (Swift 2002).  For agencies with “multiple environmental impacts an environmental management system will be the most appropriate method of establishing agency-wide procedures to meet the goals of this order.”  This program cross referenced federal departmental environmental management system policies (letters, memorandums) including ISO 14000 protocols (see  Therefore, with the state’s Director of Marine Fisheries, a voting member of the New England Fishery Management Council, a selection of these “agency” sustainable environmental practices can be introduced into “federally consistent” fisheries policies as required in the voluntary programmatic application of the Coastal Zone Management Act 1972 as amended, which Massachusetts is a long-time participant.  For an opposing view to New England Fishery Management Council policy, see Sanchirico and Hanna, (2004).

As a bureau within the executive branch, specifically the “White House”, the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) through its chairman notes “the Bush Administration is actively promoting and supporting the implementation of environmental management system(s) … CEQ has expertise on the ISO 14000 series as well as understanding the international standardization process.  The CEQ sees the relationship between the purpose of the tools, and the needs and goals of the government in relation to environmental issues.  The CEQ has the opportunity to bring to light the connections between performance goals and necessary management tools, and illustrate the value of the standards to help meet the goals” (Connaughton, 2002a p. 5).

Blodgett (2000) writes that alternatives to U.S. command and control approaches to environmental protection has heightened in recent years.  One new approach to environmental protection that fosters sustainability are value-based principles drawn from, inter alia, voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS).  These may be categorized with “good management practices,” the precautionary principle (approach) and ecosystem management (Blodgett, 2000 p. 5).  “The management process approach proposes to affect decisions by promoting and reinforcing environmentally oriented values” and that good management practices “are often seen as voluntary alternatives to regulatory mandates.” (Blodgett, 2000 p. 5).

Voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) standards such as the ISO 14000 series may provide a mechanism for regulatory process and application transparency in the United States where emerging marine affairs oriented fisheries issues such as approval of transgenic fish for aquaculture production (see Logar and Pollock, 2005) run into drawbacks related to disclosure prohibitions contained in the Trade Secrets Act(s) of 2004.  In July of 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jointly with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designed a voluntary, fee-for-service seafood inspection program that was based on hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) concepts – thus voluntary programs are not new to the fisheries industry (Billy, 1994; Brown and Sylvia, 1994).  Another voluntary public/private approach, this time related to Atlantic Salmon conservation, involved Champion International Corporation, Georgia-Pacific and another firm initiating the Salmon Habitat and River Enhancement Project in “downeast” Maine (Heissenbuttel, 1996).

Begley (1996b p. 54) reports that outside the United States “regulatory systems are less stringent, less prescriptive, and less adversarial making ISO 14000 a more meaningful tool for organizations to use to demonstrate commitment to good performance.”  Begley (1996b p. 54) highlights that the “abundant record keeping required by ISO 14001 provides regulators with a paper trail of an organization’s efforts to prevent and correct problems.”  “ISO 14000 establishes internationally recognized standards that will diminish barriers to trade and make it easier to do business across borders” (Begley, 1996b p. 51). “Since the ISO 14000 family of standards is recognized internationally, benefits in competitive positioning arising from certification may be realized in foreign as well as domestic markets.”  Some studies corroborate these findings (see: Berthelot et al., 2003 p. 50).


According to the United States National Academy of Science – National Research Council (NRC; 1999) the international VEMS standard, ISO 14000, does not establish specific environmental performance requirements beyond commitment to continual improvement as well as compliance with applicable legislation and regulations.  Highlighted aspects of changing the environmental protection paradigm can be seen “from one focused solely on complying with federal regulations to one for which compliance is achieved as part of a more proactive performance-based system” (NRC, 1999 p. 3).  The NRC (1999 p. 4) highlighted that the characteristics of VEMS’s and ISO 14001 “to be flexible, baseline approach that can be adapted to organizations of all sizes and types, and to a variety of cultures, processes and businesses.”  For the U.S., a panel of experts of the National Academy of Sciences/NRC could be convened to research and articulate marine fisheries-oriented VEMS (see: NRC, 1999; National Academy of Public Administration, 2001).

“The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) has also dealt with environmental management but on a broader and more global scale.  To reiterate the International Organization for Standardization, commonly referred to as ISO, is an international, non-governmental federation of “standards bodies” from one hundred and twenty participating nations.  The ISO addresses environmental management on a broader and more global scale through its voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) standard, ISO 14001 and the ISO 14000 series in general.  The standards represent unprecedented market-place and scientifically-based consensus initiatives (von Zharen 1998 p. 83).  The ISO 14000 series provides specific requirements and principles for environmental management with the goal of internalizing environmental standards into either public and/or private sector actions locally, regionally or globally. “The focus of ISO 14001 is on a management ecosystem” (von Zharen 1998 p. 83).  Present applications of a voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) strategy may be found in a plethora of businesses, including segments of the maritime industry.  “The ISO 14001 standard is by design generic and thus could apply to all components of maritime activities, including fisheries management and management of marine ecosystems” (von Zharen, 1999 p. 18).  The ISO 14001 requires a multifaceted, interdisciplinary look at all aspects of a business or organization’s activities, products, or services at all levels in all areas and an analysis of how these interact potentially in an unsustainable detrimental manner with the physical environment.  In other words, ISO 14001 focuses on both parts and the whole.

“The impetus for the ISO 14000 series can be traced to the global environmental initiative, the Earth Summit in 1992” (von Zharen, 1999 p. 11).  The June 1992 Earth Summit Conference in Rio De Janeiro had as one focus worldwide corporate environmental management (see e.g. Shrivastava, 1995 p. 937).  A number of voluntary environmental management systems (VEMSs) were at that time in various stages of development.  Major ones included the British Standard, BS 7750, and the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, EMAS (Oluoch-Wauna, 2001).  Individual industries had developed their own specialized VEMS especially the chemical manufacturers.  What was needed, however, was a unified and all encompassing generic VEMS that could embody all industry, organizations (including government and non-governmental entities), and businesses, large, medium, and small that could also pertain to the marine environment (see e.g. Bodal, 2003; Sinclair and Valdimarsson, 2003).  Out of this concern in part, emerged the ISO 14000 international voluntary environmental management system series.  The ISO 14000 series provides specific requirements and principles for environmental management.  The standards are “systems” standards, neither domestic nor intentional legal standards (von Zharen 1999 p. 12).  They are intended to harmonize standards across industry organizations primarily in a voluntary manner.  The public or private organization (entity) identifies what environmental impacts are acceptable within the prevailing legal regulatory framework, both international (treaties, memorandums of understanding (MOU)) and domestic (in the U.S. “Public Law” and executive orders).  The ISO 14000 series may apply to all types of organizations and is structured to accommodate diverse geographical, cultural, and social conditions.  Unlike traditional command and control piecemeal regulatory approaches to environmental protection, the ISO 14000 series may simultaneously address all affected media and resources, including living marine species (von Zharen 1999 p. 12).

Moreover, the standards may be grouped as either highlighting evaluation of an organization’s management system and activities or focusing on assessment of its products (for example, seafood processing) and/or services (wild capture fishing, aquaculture, “deep-sea recreational, for-hire fishing trips,” etc).  It is a “management” standard, not a command and control legal standard.  Other types of documents in the series include tools and guidelines (Figure 2).  The ISO 14000 series defines management processes to be followed to minimize the impact an organization (entity) will have on the environment.  It is up to the organization to identify what environmental impacts are acceptable within the established regulatory legal framework to which it falls. “Effective (voluntary) environmental management system’s are based on a realistic view of how organization’s work.  This includes understanding that it is the people with their handle on the controls who determine whether or not an organization complies with legal requirements” (Giles, 2004 p. 35).  The ISO 14001 may be used to augment and proactively precede the traditional piece-meal regulatory approach to stewarding ocean resources (von Zharen, 1998; see also von Zharen, 1995).  There are several core principles of an ISO 14001 VEMS (see Figure 14).  As a part of these core principles, there is included a framework for setting and reviewing environmental objectives and targets that are communicated to all employees (crew) and that remains available in a transparent diaphanous way to stakeholders6,7, (however they identify themselves; see: for example, Mitchell et al., 1997).

An effective ISO 14001 voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) can be built on stewardship framework principles such as those of the science-based large marine ecosystem (LME) approach (see e.g. Sherman and Duda, 1999a&b; Duda and Sherman, 2005; Sherman, 2005; Alexander, 1993; Morgan, 1994; Morgan, 1987).  The ISO 14000 series incorporates management precepts that are imperative in attaining an ecosystem oriented-approach to sustainability of the marine environment: it provides commitment to environmental performance; a review of environmental impacts; the formulation of objectives and targets; and continual improvement to meeting the environmental policy vision (or mission statement), that is the baseline for prospective (third party) certification (von Zharen 1999 p. 13).  The ISO 14000 specialization’s encompass a wide variety of aspects including environmental auditing, eco-labeling, self and third party certification, and life-cycle analysis (see Figure 15).

Sproul (1998b p. 141) states the fishing industry is quite suited to implement various aspects of an international voluntary environmental management system (VEMS); whether at the vessel, firm or fishery-wide level.  Indeed the Australian government has fostered pilot projects related to fisheries voluntary environmental management systems (see: Australian Government, 2005 and 2004a&b).  Typically, the ISO 14000 approach focuses on an individual firm, organization, or entity developing an appropriate VEMS with prospective guidance from “registered” environmental management systems host country base auditors if the entity chooses.  The VEMS could be specific to a firm/industry/fishery and follow appropriate established generic ISO guidelines (see: Figure 2; Table 2) that would provide the baseline for its environmental policy development and implementation.  Prior to ISO certification (which is not obligatory) however, the system and its implementation procedures could undergo an environmental audit by an independent third party for transparent certification.  Periodic internal performance evaluations could occur as a part of environmental audits which could be communicated to interested stakeholders including regulators (see Figure 2, Figure 16).  Independence between monitoring and enforcement reviews ensures on-going regulatory and prospective certification compliance while encouraging adaptive management (see Figure 17) improvement practices (see e.g., NRC, 2004a&b) regarding the VEMS and the firm’s actual fishery impact on the ecosystem (Sproul, 1998b p. 143).

Certification of a country’s products at the macro level or of an organization’s produce at the micro level (see Stehr Group 2005) via locally provided human resource teams of independent VEMS-auditors could be articulated in a consistent way to both domestic and international clientele by way of an international “eco-label” protocol that is provided by adherence to ISO 14020 (see also: Gudmundsson and Wessels, 2000; LeBlanc, 2003; Wessels, 2002).  (This is analogous to the dolphin-safe tuna moniker in the U.S. consumer market that is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, see also: NOAA, 2000 and 2002; NMFS-Office of Protected Resources, 2005a, b, c, d).  Thus, cross-boundary standardization of the eco-label procedure is imperative to not only optimize defensible VEMS documentation, but to avoid non-tariff trade barriers that could materialize in the discord associated with a myriad of potential certification schemes (Sproul, 1998b p. 143; see also Teisl et al., 2002; Joseph, 1994).  The ISO “eco-label” protocol simply confirms that the product is what it says it is by analogy, “dolphin safe” (see Sutton 1998 p. 132).  Also certified is the documentation practice describing the process by which the product came about.  If the process were specifically applied to fisheries, and FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries criteria8 were employed, the auditor process could certify and label fisheries as sustainable and an institutionally ecological practice (Sproul, 1998b p. 143).

Sustainable fishery certification will likely incorporate into every day consumer choice (Allison, 2001).  The process of learning how to minimize marine environmental ecosystem impacts while financing socially constructive organization is of paramount importance.  Through market forces rather than subsidization, a fundamental shift in thinking may take place.  The economy will begin to incorporate ways for people to respond in the market place to the realization that constructive and sustainable processes are at least as important as their end-product.  Linking the fishery product with its process (e.g. gear effects minimization on habitat, minimal incidental/regulatory bycatch and discards as well as highgrading, and an end to unresponsible overfishing) is key, the ISO 14000 series VEMS accomplishes this task (Gable, 2003; Sproul, 1998b).

The time is upon the fishing industry as a whole and its milieu of consumer oriented-stakeholders, resource managers, academics, and policy makers, to formulate a legacy for marine ecosystem sustainable development.  Within their grasp is the opportunity to initiate and institutionalize free-market, democratic instruments of choice, such as the ISO 14001 VEMS provides (Sproul, 1998b p. 145) and as part of a large marine ecosystem (LME) socio-economic portfolio approach (Edwards et al., 2005; Edwards, 2005).  Current and future generations could utilize and build upon it to foster large marine ecosystem (LME) resource responsibility and guardianship.  With determination, an ISO 14001 VEMS program could also integrate mechanisms furthering international and domestic human development and healthy sustainable ecosystems.

The ISO 14000 family of international standards on environmental management supports the internationally agreed to objective of “sustainable development” (e.g. Kates et al., 2005) with a wide-ranging portfolio of standardized methods that provides organizations with best available scientifically valid data (see NRC, 2004a) on the environmental effects of economic activity. This is a precursor to the technical basis for environmental (fishery) regulations.  The ISO 14000 series, first printed in September 1996, meets the needs and concerns of those interested in the environmental management of all types of organizations.  Specifically the ISO 14000 family of standards comprises a systematic approach of documents related to voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS; i.e., ISO 14001 and ISO 14004) and procedures and documents related to environmental management tools, such as environmental management system audits and environmental performance evaluations.

The goal of VEMS adoption is to help all types of organizations (entities) ensure that their operations comply with environmental laws and that major environmental risks, liabilities, and impacts are properly identified, minimized, and managed (Darnall, et al., 2000 p. 1).  They are also meant to be transparent to stakeholders and the interested public.  Since the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD; ending in September 2002) incorporated the concept of ecosystem-based management system for a sustainable future the ecosystem effects of fishing needs better scientific scrutiny (Barange, 2003).  Dernbach and Feldman (2003 p. 88) state that with regard to the Johannesburg Summit in September 2002, “the concept of sustainable development changed by incorporating environmental protection, and even restoration into the definition of development." (see also Kates, et al., 2005).

Barange (2003 p. 194) claims that the scientific community needs “to quantify anthropogenically driven changes and their consequences in terms of ecosystem functioning, turnover rates, matter fluxes and so on, and to determine whether they are reversible, and if so over what time scales.”  We need to establish data bases of estimated species abundance and resource management approaches … such an inventory does not yet exist (Barange, 2003 p. 195).  It is suggested here that an industry based “voluntary” ISO 14000 series environmental management system could provide a part of that needed data base (see also Zeller et al., 2005).  Darnall et. al., (2000 pp. 1 & 2) writes that a VEMS supplies the structural framework to minimize an organizations environmental footprint (see Figure 4).  Once an organization implements its VEMS, theoretically, it will not only be in conformance with all (governmental) environmental regulations, but it may also surpass the regulatory standards for many environmentally regulated activities. In addition, the collected fishery biomass data could be studied in aggregate by the scientific community to ascertain ecosystem functioning.  Further, the entity may identify opportunities for reducing non-regulated environmental impacts of its activities too.  Organizations that adopt VEMS’s and are able to reduce their environmental impacts beyond regulatory standards may also lessen their required environmental reporting burdens and their associated costs (Darnall et al., 2000 p. 2).

In the marine fisheries realm, concerning the ecosystem effects of fishing, between 18 and 39.5 million metric tons of mostly dead fish are discarded annually by commercial fisheries which may severely handicap the energy flow in large marine ecosystems (Barange, 2003 p. 194; see Figure 18).  “From an ecological perspective, the ecosystem approach recognizes, and aims to remedy the unwanted impacts of fishing on non-target species, habitats and ecological interactions” (Jennings, 2004 p. 280).  Shrivastava (1995 p. 937) suggests “because much economic activity occurs within corporations (firms), government efforts need to be supplemented with new voluntary efforts [emphasis added] by corporations (firms) in order to address the industrial induced ecological problems.”  “Corporations (firms) are the intermediaries that convert natural resources into usable products (commodities; see Figure 7).  Natural resource-based industries (fisheries) can play a very constructive role in preserving ecosystems through conservation and resource-renewal strategies.” (Shrivastava, 1995 p. 940). This is analogous to humans as an integral part of the ecosystem – not separate from it (Sherman, 2005).

The ISO 14001 context as described by Darnall (2001, p. 2) identifies ISO 14001-certified VEMSs as standards for environmental management. While many organizations or companies for years have utilized VEMSs, ISO 14001 is the first successful attempt to create an international VEMS standard that is certified by an external auditor.  And, it can be utilized for either or both domestic or international purposes – important aspects for large marine ecosystem (LME) fisheries management.

Pojasek (2002 p. 83) affirms that the “ISO 14000 environmental management standard is currently the most widely used VEMS around the world.” Stapleton, et al. (2001 p. 1), also makes the claim that the “ISO 14001 published in November 1996, is the most widely accepted international standard for VEMS.”  Thornton (2000 p. 89) articulates the story that by “late 1999, it was announced that suppliers to the automobile industry (in the U.S.) would be required to certify the implementation of (voluntary) environmental management systems (VEMS’s) in their operations by the end of 2002.  The VEMS’s must be in conformance with ISO 14001.”  Thus, a VEMS standard is born.  “Automakers can have a very significant and direct effect on their suppliers’ behavior with regard to quality, safety, and environmental performance.” (Thornton, 2000 p. 92).

Thornton (2000 p. 93) goes on to theorize that … ISO 14001 certification “assures all parties that the company is working diligently to improve environmental performance, and is willing to go on record with their objective and results.”  As a part of the precautionary approach (e.g. Dorman, 2005) “ISO 14001 certification can be particularly important in developing countries, where many sensitive environmental issues may arise” (Thornton, 2000 p. 93).  Thornton (2000 p. 93) assures that it is the “customer’s reaction that will determine the success of ISO 14001 certification” (the Registrar Accreditation Board accredits ISO 14001 registrars in the United States).

Despite its apparent focus on traditional business operations, ISO 14001 also has gained the attention of public policy makers because of its potential and apparent relevance to environmental protection and sustainability (Darnall, 2001 p. 3).  Beginning in the late 1990s, state and federal environmental regulators have investigated the use of VEMSs and their role in public policy (see for example, Swift, 2002; State of Connecticut, 1999).  One outgrowth of this interest was the formation of the Multistate Working Group on Environmental Management Systems (MSWG) while in concert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated ten state-level pilot programs to encourage and facilitate VEMS adoption in approximately 60 U.S. based facilities (Darnall, 2001, p. 3).  The MSWG and EPA initiated the pilot program to determine the potential VEMSs have for future regulation in any industry.  According to Darnall (2001 p. 3) approximately three-quarters of the pilot project facilities were also seeking ISO 14001 (third party) certification (see also NRC, 1999).

Because of the pilot programs, regulators interest in VEMSs has gained momentum and beginning in 2000, U.S. EPA created “Performance Track” to recognize organizations that consistently meet their obligatory regulatory legal requirements and implement high-quality voluntary environmental management systems based on the ISO 14001 framework (Darnall, 2001 p. 3).  Regulators interest in VEMSs is rooted in the belief that organizations which adopt VEMSs may meet or exceed their regulatory commitments (e.g. Hart, 1995), thus making the environmental regulatory system less burdensome and restrictive to their operations.  Darnall (2001 p. 3) postulates that while scientific evidence on this issue is not yet tenable, if VEMSs demonstrate increases in environmental performance then important governmental-orientated questions arise about whether U.S. executive branch agencies should use ISO 14001 as a tool for them to achieve goals of greater environmental protection. (see, for example Hart, 1995 p. 1000).

The ISO 14001 VEMS family places its focus on the “organization,” not the “facility” (Ritzert, 2000 p. 70).  “It is not a site management system defined by physical boundaries, but rather a management system for the activities, products, and services of the organization – including people, resources, physical plant or platform, materials, and all the other things that make up the firm, enterprise, or institution” (Ritzert, 2000 p. 70; see Figure 19; Table 3).

The ISO 14000 environmental standards specify the structure of information technology, in the form of a VEMS, that an organization must have in place if it seeks to obtain certification of the VEMS according to ISO guidelines.  The ISO 14000 standards describe the basic elements of an effective VEMS (Montabon et al., 2000, p. 5; see Figure 14, Figure 15).  For the proactive organization the assumption is that better environmental management will indirectly lead to better environmental performance (Montabon et al., 2000, p. 5).

Montabon et al., (2000 p. 6) divided the “intent” of the ISO 14000 into two general categories.  For organizational evaluation, the VEMS, auditing, and performance evaluation standards will be used.  The VEMS standards provide the framework for the management system.  Third-party auditing and performance evaluations are seen as management tools in the successful implementation of a VEMS.  For product/services and process evaluation, labeling, life cycle assessment, and environmental attributes in, for example, seafood/fishery aquacultural product standards would be emphasized.

Thus, in review, according to information available from the U.S. EPA (see: online available March 19, 2005) an environmental management system is a framework that helps an organization achieve its environmental goals through consistent re-analysis of its operations (so-called “double loop analysis”).  The assumption is that this increased analysis will over time improve the environmental performance of the organization and strive for a healthy sustainable ecosystem.  The voluntary environmental management system itself does not require a level of environmental performance that must be achieved; each organization’s VEMS is tailored to the organization’s industry services, regulations and goals. A VEMS encourages an organization to continuously improve its environmental performance in a synoptic manner, by following a repeating cycle (see Figures 2, 3, 4, and especially 6).

According to Oluoch-Wauna (2001, p. 247) “a successful implementation of an environmental management system and audit also allows an organization to minimize its environmental liabilities and risks.”  Further, proof of good environmental management could lead to easy attainment of environmental incident insurance coverage at low premiums due to reduced risks.  Presently, the utilization of a VEMS and certification or audit as an instrument of environmental protection is in an adaptive management experimental phase.  There is as yet no systematic approach to its use, or criteria for analyzing its effectiveness (Oluoch-Wauna, 2001, p. 248).  “In due course, environmental auditing will become the norm, part of best environmental practice of firms” (Goodall, 1995, p. 34).  To facilitate global acceptance and implementation of sustainable fisheries (and aquaculture) LME-oriented principles can be framed within a broad arena of voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) standards that are akin to indicators contained in the socio-economic module.

Therefore, establishment and implementation of an organization’s VEMS is central in ascertaining its environmental policy, objectives, and targets, providing a benchmark frame of reference for continuous adjustment and improvement of marine-related environmental performance (Gable, 2003).  Tools for environmental management exist to assist the organization in fostering and promoting its environmental policy, objectives, and targets; see Table 2.  The ISO 14000 compliance standards are practical tools for the manager (boat captain, fishery permit holder, regulator, etc.) who isn’t satisfied with compliance to legislation and command and control directives, they’re for the proactive entity providing a strategic approach to conducting, implementing, and evaluating environment-related measures that can bring a sustainable return on investment (Gable, 2003, p. 439).  More information on ISO 14000 VEMS usage in the private sector can be found in Coglianese and Nash (2002, 2001).  Thus, adoption of ISO 14000 compliance standards could be contained and subsumed into a sustainable “precautionary approach” paradigm.  One example is the market-oriented voluntary bycatch reduction program that has effectively reduced bycatch rates in Northeast Pacific trawl fisheries; it is known as the Sea State Program (see:; see Appendix 1).


The ISO 14001:2004 & ISO14004:2004 revisions were released for publication on November 15, 2004 providing an improvement from the original September 1996 version, with more ease of understanding, clearer requirement intent, an emphasis on overall regulatory compliance, and generalized compatibility with its older updated sibling ISO 9000:2000.

The ISO 14001:2004 revision changes includes clarification of terminology, better alignment with ISO 9000:2000, and more emphasis on certain requirements together with the folding in of additional conditions (e.g. Dodds, 2003).  Realignment with ISO 9000:2000 allows entities that are interested in combining a voluntary environmental management system (VEMS) and quality management system (QMS), an ease of transition to the revision. This perhaps is now better suited for a seafood processor organization as well as for offshore aquaculture development (Logar and Pollack, 2005; Dalton, 2005; Naughten, 2005; Schmid, 2005; Hoagland et al., 2003).  The combining of the management systems can be a natural progression for establishments with joint organization resources.

The ISO 14001:2004 revision includes clarifications that range from simple terminology adjustments, to a complete rewrite of paragraphs, as well as the addition of new requirements.  The clarifications and terminology changes theoretically will enhance the understanding of the requirements for the organization.  Overall, the updates will likely add clarity to the voluntary environmental management system requirements in the first “new and improved” version since its inception in September 1996 (see Table 4).


The precautionary-oriented ISO 14001 VEMS standard can be the catalyst for fusing disparate goals into a global vision of marine environmental sustainability – which is the focus of a large marine ecosystem (LME) approach to living marine resources (see e.g. Sherman and Duda, 1999a&b; Duda and Sherman, 2002).  Ammenberg and Hjelm (2002 p. 188) in their study uncovered that many small or micro enterprises are in need of systematic environmental efforts as some entities did not take into consideration environmental issues at all.  This is likely the situation for many marine fisheries related efforts as well.  Dietz et al., (2003 p. 1909) suggests that in the struggle to govern the commons requirements for complex systems (e.g. Green et al., 2005) adaptive governance may encompass voluntary approaches.  These measures and “those based on information disclosure have only begun to receive careful scientific attention as supplements to other tools.”  They suggest that to gain success it “appears to depend on the existence of incentives that benefit leaders in volunteering over laggards and on the simultaneous use of other strategies, particularly ones that create incentives for compliance.”  This maybe the situation notwithstanding sanctioning difficulties posing problems under international agreements (Dietz et. al., 2003 p. 1909).  They have also found that relying on “one-level centralized command and control strategies” to effectuate efficiencies for governing world resources have also failed (Dietz et. al., 2003 p. 1910; e.g. Table 5).  Kollman and Prakash (2002 p. 60) highlight that local or “domestic factors such as organizational arrangements, regulatory styles, and market structures significantly influence firms’ incentives structures“ to taking up “beyond compliance” VEMS codes such as ISO 14001.  “Although showing some promise, rights-based management has yet to demonstrate its ability to cope with ecosystem-based management” (Sinclair et al., 2002 p. 262; see also Figure 20).  Individual fishery quota’s or dedicated access privileges “may reduce overcapitalization and inefficiency in U.S. fisheries, they do not lead to ecosystem protection and sustainable fisheries” (Rieser, 1997 p. 817).  “Ecosystem management is further hindered by the fact that a (U.S.) regional fishery management council cannot manage fish populations throughout their range because authority over the entire marine ecosystem is fragmented between different entities” (Hanna, 1997 p. 228; see also Figure 21).

Hence, adoption of consensus based voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) can help facilitate an incremental movement toward ecosystem-oriented fisheries science policy.  Steger (2000 p. 32) suggests that an “ecological limits-driven” VEMS can contribute to sustainable harvests in the long term for specific ecosystems.  Valdimarsson and Metzner (2005 p. 288) advise that a fisheries oriented firm-based response to perceived consumer market pressures ought to include compliance and environmental standards such as ISO 14001.  The ISO 14000 series aims at the establishment of ecological considerations in the decision-making process on the granting of permits (or “dedicated access privileges”).  Fisheries oriented firms must increasingly secure a permit (license) to operate directly from civil society, in conjunction with regulators, by illustrating their commitment to sound environmental policy and performance (e.g. Neumayer and Perkins, 2004 p. 830).  The ISO 14000 series framework can demonstrate such a commitment.  Neumayer and Perkins (2004 p. 836) imply that ISO 14001 could be a complement to public law and regulation.  Imperial and Yandle (2005 p. 499) caution “setting a TAC can be problematic when decision makers are confronted with scientific uncertainty.  The process can also be distorted if fishers increase catch in an effort to ‘fish for quota’ in the years leading up to the introduction of an ITQ system” (re: dedicated access privileges).

This review has attempted to address the hypothesis by Hanna (2002 p. 4) that the “existence of property rights (in fisheries) would allow the focus to shift toward performance-based regulation, where the right to fish depends on certification of meeting specified conditions.” Taken literally, this paper, through a normative review and synthesis of the best available science literature, finds that “certification” to ISO 14001 VEMS conditions is able to foster performance towards sustainable ecosystem-approaches to fisheries. The ISO 14000 voluntary approach provides entities the flexibility to develop VEMS that are appropriate to their business characteristics, levels of risk, location and operations (Rondinelli and Vastag, 2000 p. 501).  “While ISO 14001 does not eliminate the need for government regulation of industry, it should help industries improve their ability to meet the expectations of regulators” (Raines, 2002 p. 425), this may be especially true for emerging “sector organizations” in commercial fisheries operations (see e.g. GAO, 2004).  Further, it is also possible that insurance companies, and perhaps the banking industry, maybe more willing to accept certification to ISO 14001 VEMS as evidence of reduced environmental risk-taking by entities (e.g. Raines, 2002 p. 421) and thus offer special rates (Kollman and Prakash, 2002 p. 48).  With regards to environmental management system implementation, Fryxell et al., (2004 p. 243) hypothesize that the “effectiveness of major environmental management system components will be influenced by motivations for certification.”  Their hypothesis was generally supported – “the strongest motivations were to ensure regulatory compliance, enhance the organization’s reputation and improve environmental performance, respectively” (Fryxell, et. al., 2004 p. 247).  Lastly, Delmas (2002 p. 99) proffers that the “government can also promote the adoption of ISO 14001 VEMS by threatening to issue a mandatory environmental management standard (that may be more stringent than ISO 14001) if firms are not voluntarily adopting ISO 14001 in its present form.”

As stated in the introduction, Gober9 (2000 p. 8) points out “modern synthesis is organized around ideas, concepts and theories.  It emphasizes discovering strategic connections…,” it may involve linking already discovered ideas in innovative ways, in grappling with large and complicated human and natural systems, and in looking for analogies in seemingly unconnected fields.”  Thus, it is proposed here that the application of voluntary environmental management systems (VEMS) can serve as an integrated useful tool that can strengthen and improve large marine ecosystem environmental quality and sustainability.


Funding for this study provided through a U.S. National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Research Associateship Award (No. 0497420-marine science and fisheries) performed at the NOAA/NMFS Narragansett, Rhode Island Lab under the program on “marine ecosystem assessment and management.”  Thanks to Kenneth Sherman, Director, NMFS Narragansett Lab and Chief, NMFS Office of Marine Ecosystems Studies for comments and discussions on earlier versions of the manuscript, as well as Steven F. Edwards of the NMFS Narragansett Lab, Phil Logan, Chief, Social Sciences Branch (NMFS, Woods Hole, MA), Professor Tim Hennessey of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston and other anonymous reviewers.  I also thank Professor W.M. von Zharen of Texas A&M in Galveston for discussions on VEMS ISO 14000 last winter. The Social Sciences Branch of the NMFS-NEFSC covered publication costs for binding and distribution for the NEFSC “technical memorandum” series.

  1. Moreover, in a memorandum letter dated November 19, 2003, concerning the “establishment of environmental management systems,” the then Assistant Attorney General for Administration of the U.S. Department of Justice recommended that each Federal Bureau establish a voluntary environmental management system that reflects ISO 14001 or similar standards.  He also wrote that agencies ought to consider “procedures and processes necessary to enable organizations to perform their functions consistent with regulatory requirements, environmental policies, and agency mission.”
  2. The Commanding Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a memorandum dated May 19, 2003 (Commander’s Policy Memorandum #11), stated that the “environmental management system represents a framework through which an organization identifies attainable indicators of environmental performance, continuously seeks to improve its environmental performance in measurable ways, and documents these improvements.”  Further he went on to write, referring to Executive Order 13148, “while these voluntary environmental management system requirements are oriented to federal facilities, they do not preclude the eventual development of programmatic environmental management systems.”  Further, the Department of Army has directed, the Corps of Engineers environment management systems will be based on the International Organization of Standardization framework ISO 14001.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary in a memorandum dated July 29, 2004 (memo #5600-001), regarding USDA Environmental Management System Policy, enacted a doctrine  that “environmental management will be an integral part of day-to-day decision-making and long-term planning across all USDA mission areas and in all USDA missions, activities, and functions.”  The then Secretary of Commerce, Donald Evans, by and large echoed these same intentions in a memo dated April 22, 2003.
  3. Wixted (2003) provided an implementation guide for U.S. Department of Commerce environmental management systems.  The 18 steps in the guide drew upon ISO 14000 standards in describing VEMS elements, stating it is a widely-accepted international standard for a continual-improvement-oriented VEMS.
  4. Wixted (2003) reconfirmed the intent of Secretary of Commerce Evans’ memorandum issued on April 22, 2003, that the “success of our mission requires a commitment to continual improvement in our environmental management performance.  The environmental management system is the tool to assist us in meeting this commitment.”  The VEMS serves as a tool for improving overall agency and environmental mission performance (Wixted, 2003 p. 3).  The ISO 14001 VEMS approach is specifically referred to by the guide.
  5. As a bureau in the Department of Commerce, NOAA’s mission, inter alia, is to conserve and wisely manage America’s coastal and marine resources to ensure sustainable economic opportunities including the goal of ecosystem-based management.  The National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA works in partnership with … (8) regional fishery management councils crafting measures to prevent overfishing, rebuild stocks, and reduce bycatch among other objectives (Department of Commerce Ocean and Coastal Activities Report of the Office of Management Budget (, online available December 18, 2004.)
  6. Co-management is featured as the basis on which to build sustainability strategies in which all stakeholders participate.  Co-management, synonymous with cooperative management, joint management, and collaborative management, is defined as a system that enables a sharing of decision-making power, responsibility, and risk between governments and stakeholders including, but not limited to, resource users, environmental interests, experts, and wealth generators.  It is a form of power sharing, that fisheries stewardship programs can integrate (von Zharen, 1998 pp. 85 & 86).
  7. In order to establish its legitimacy, co-management regime must be created from a mandate, such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among participating parties.  Other core elements are essential to the success of a co-management VEMS.  The first is a strong supporting institution -- the council, board, or agency charged with implementation.  Another element is effective engagement of stakeholders in order to "probe the intricacies of key issues, to define the values and principles for action, to explore new concepts, to forge alliances, and to create a legitimacy for the implementation and delivery phases" (von Zharen, 1998 p. 88).
  8. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries has specific articles for implementation of sustainable development provisions contained in the Code in, for example, both fishing operations (Art. 8) and fisheries management (Art. 7).  According to Garcia (2000 p. 536) "this structure is convenient because it is explicitly addressed to the various types of actors required to implement the Code: the policy and decision-makers; managers; fishermen; fish processor and traders; fish farmers;" as well as scientists (fisheries research is found in Article 12).  "While the FAO Code is a voluntary and non-binding instrument, the United States has consistently supported its usefulness as an internationally agreed upon statement of principles that should govern the policies of FAO members in all sectors of the fishing industry" (see: Federal Register 67 (164), August 23, 2002 at page 54645; and Federal Register 65 (210), October 30, 2000 at page 64683).
  9. Patricia Gober is a former invited NOAA Science Advisory Board member when James Baker was Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmospheres in the Department of Commerce.  She mentions in her article that NOAA “recently recast its mission to encompass environmental stewardship.  Its goals of building sustainable fisheries, recovering protected species, maintaining healthy coastlines and delivering better forecasts are ripe for social science input” (Gober 2000 p. 5, referencing the "NOAA Strategic Plan: A Vision for 2005", published in 1996).


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Appendix 1. Harnessing Market Forces in American Fisheries Science Policy
Appendix 2. A Socio-economic Strategy for the Ocean’s Ecosystem through Voluntary Environmental Management System(s) in an LME Framework
Appendix 3. The Marine Stewardship Council as Another Example of Non-governmental Aquatic Voluntary Environmental Management Systems


= American Association for the Advancement of Science
= (White House) Council on Environmental Quality
= East Coast Pelagic Association
= exclusive economic zone
= environmental impact assessment/analysis
= (US) Environmental Protection Agency
= (UN) Food and Agricultural Organization
FDA = (US) Food and Drug Administration
FMP = fishery management plan
GIS = geographical information system
GMRI = Gulf of Maine Research Institute
GPS = global positioning system
HACCP = hazard analysis critical control points
ISO = International Organization for Standardization
ITQ = individual transferable quota
LME = large marine ecosystem
MOU = memorandum of understanding
MSC = Marine Stewardship Council
NEFMC = New England Fishery Management Council
NEPA = (US) National Environmental Policy Act
NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service
OMB = (White House) Office of Management and Budget
QMS = quality management system
S-K = Saltonstall-Kennedy Act
TAC = total allowable catch
UN = United Nations
UNEP = United Nations Environmental Programme
VEMS = voluntary environmental management system
VMS = vessel monitoring system
WSSD = World Summit on Sustainable Development
WWF = World Wide Fund for Nature
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