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Step 1

Initial assessment, definition of Good Environmental Status and determination of targets and indicators

MSFD requirements

By 2012, EU countries were required to report on (i) the results of the initial assessment of their marine waters including an economic and social analysis of the uses and the costs of degradation; (ii) definition of GES; and (iii) targets and indicators. A review of the outputs of this step is required by July 2018 (see Step 5).

The objective of this step is to put in place measures to reach or maintain GES by 2020. There are certain circumstances where it is accepted that GES may not be achieved or a longer timeframe for achievement may be permitted: for example, if measures need international action, the costs of measures is disproportionate, or for reasons of overriding public interest.

Implementation in the Celtic Sea project area

Public consultations on the outputs of this step have been completed in the UK and France. At the time of publication, work on this step is ongoing in Ireland.

In the UK the Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy community produced a comprehensive report on the status of UK seas (Charting Progress 2xiv) that fed directly into the initial assessment process. In France and Ireland information has been provided from a range of sources.

National information needs to be analysed, interpreted and disseminated at the sub-regional (and regional) level in order to meet the requirements of the MSFD and provide the large-scale picture required to implement the ecosystem approach. It is assumed this would be coordinated by OSPAR.

Public consultations at the end of this step were mandatory under the Directive (to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to review and comment on national proposals). Prior to consultation, other participation did take place (see Section 4 for more information on types of stakeholder participation); however, because reporting on this aspect varies widely, it is difficult to determine which stakeholders participated, how and when. The general picture suggests limited participation, but with variation between countries (see Box 8). A key issue appears to be a lack of resources within national governments for a more collaborative approach.

Box 8: Stakeholder participation during Step 1 in Celtic Sea countries (in addition to formal consultation).

  • In the UK, stakeholders have been engaged through a range of national workshops and meetings over the past two years, mainly focused on specific aspects of the proposals (e.g. targets, GES descriptors) rather than evidence collection. Some of these have been via an informal MSFD-specific stakeholder group which met occasionally. Workshops and meetings have generally been managed by Defra and held in London, which has tended to result in reduced participation from the devolved countries (e.g. Wales).
  • In France, a wide range of stakeholders have participated in a series of national and regional meetings to share ideas (held under the auspices of the Maritime Council for the North Atlantic/Western Channel Coastal Zone). An MSFD-specific national stakeholder group with a formal and representative structure was set up.
  • There appears to have been a relatively strong focus on participation to help develop the evidence base. In Ireland, there has been limited engagement with stakeholders to date, but workshops are planned for September 2012. No MSFD-specific stakeholder group exists yet.

International stakeholder participation appears to have been limited. For example, international fisheries stakeholders operating in the Celtic Sea have not been directly involved. However, governments are working to ensure consistency across European seas for fisheries targets and indicators.

In general, the impacts of proposals have also been evaluated at the national levelxv, so it is unclear where information on the impacts on international stakeholders (e.g. international fishing fleets) will be captured. This raises practical challenges for how transboundary consultation will take place in practice.

How stakeholders could be affected by this step

Targets are significant for stakeholders since they will influence what the Celtic Sea might look like in the future, and set the context against which measures will be identified. The economic and social analysis is also a key source of information on which the justification for measures will be made, and is therefore highly relevant to stakeholders.

At present the outputs of this step are summarised at the national level. The extent to which this national information is analysed, interpreted and disseminated at the sub-regional (and regional) scales will affect some stakeholders, particularly those with a transboundary interest (e.g. fisheries, shipping and major offshore infrastructure planning).

“Like so much legislation, if we get the proper involvement of stakeholders at the right time, we replace fear with success. If we fail to create a stakeholder process that’s inclusive, effective and provides a real opportunity for input, we do so at our peril.” (statutory agency)

How stakeholders can influence this step

This step has largely been completed in the project area. Although the default targets have been agreed, there is potential for stakeholders to influence national government decision-making on any arguments put forward for not achieving GES or for longer timeframes (which will largely take place in Step 3, as measures are determined). Stakeholders will also have the opportunity to help set targets when the outputs of this step are reviewed in 2018.

PISCES recommendations

Stakeholders should...

  • Press for greater participation in subsequent steps to ensure their views are represented.
  • Press for involvement early rather than later in the process.
  • Insist information (e.g. on environmental and socio-economic data, targets and indicators) is presented in a way that relates to the whole MSFD Celtic Seas sub-region, recognising that many activities and their effects are transboundary.
  • Work with relevant organisations on sub-regional analyses and reports.

Governments should...

  • Improve the participation of stakeholders in subsequent steps.
  • Ensure involvement at an early stage.
  • Ensure that analyses and reports (e.g. on environmental and socio-economic data, targets and indicators) are consistent and integrated at a Celtic Seas sub-region scale, while retaining a wider consistency and harmonisation.
  • Support initiatives that develop sub-regional analyses and reports.


  1. xiv.   UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy 2010. Charting Progress 2. An assessment of the state of UK seas. Published by Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of UKMMAS. 166 pp.
  2. xv.   HM Government. 2012. Marine Strategy Framework Directive consultation: UK Initial Assessment and Proposals for Good Environmental Status Impact Assessment. Published by Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of HM Government. 128 pp.

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