BALANS: Balancing impacts of human activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea



In the 5th North Sea Declaration (2002) Ministers stressed the need to establish an ecosystem based management of the North Sea in order to conserve biological diversity and ensure sustainable development. To reach the latter, integration of science based, environmental and socio-economic factors influencing the functioning of the North Sea ecosystem are essential. Various research activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea identified either ecological indicators without any link to socio-economical indicators or socio-economical indicators that are not linked to potential ecological indicators. At this stage, the absence of accepted systems and techniques for integrating, weighing and balancing social, economic and ecological indicators is an important lacuna.

Project description

Sustainable management of the North Sea is a complex theme due to interactions between the social, the economic and the ecological dimension. Five research disciplines (socio-economics, ecology, ecotoxicology, modelling and fisheries) strive to develop a conceptual policy model, balancing ecological, economical and social indicators in an integrated approach, to support arguments and directions for policy makers to reach a more sustainable management of the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPN).


The purpose of this project is to gain experience in correlating and balancing relevant social, economic and ecological data, through the elaboration of indicators, weighing these indicators and the development of a conceptual policy model "Sustainable Management of the North Sea" Following items will i.a. be examined: the reliability of the model, the reduction of uncertainty and error, the relevance of policy models in the argumentation for sustainable management of the sea and the effects of changing parameters of different indicators (social, economic and ecological). As this type of research is very complex and still in an embryonic phase for the marine environment, the project boundaries are limited to fisheries, sand and gravel extraction and related shipping.

Methodology & interaction between the different partners

In general all partners support the calculation of management scenarios.

Laboratory Marine Biology
- Selection and elaboration of relevant indicators for benthic en epibenthic ecology which reflect the impact of human offshore activities related to fisheries and sand/gravel exploitation, based on available literature. For fisheries special attention here will be directed to ecological impacts of the use of different types of fishing gear. For sand and gravel extraction, special attention will be given to disturbance and recolonisation of habitats.

Sea Fisheries Department
- Study of the ecological impact of sea fisheries based on own project research collected during the last 10 years and additional literature study. Special attention will be paid to the fishing techniques applied by Belgian fishermen.
- Synthesis of the available data sets and analysis of non-mined data in the Sea Fisheries Department concerning discarding in the Belgian shrimp and flatfish fisheries industry.

Laboratory Ecotoxicology
- Selection and elaboration of relevant ecotoxicological indicators which reflect the impact of various industrial activities in the North Sea (fisheries, sand and gravel extraction and discharges of pollutants).
- Selection of indicators representative for the ecological quality status of the chemistry of the water column and the seafloor, including ecological indicators of the toxicological quality and the effects of pollutants at the ecosystem level.

- Data management within the project.
- Study of the feasibility of visualisation of the data and support in the visualisation of the dynamics of a first conceptual balancing model.
- Support of the development and selection of different types of ecological and ecotoxicological indicators.
- Support of the elaboration of ecotoxicological indicators by the use of modelling.

Maritime Institute & Ecolas
- Selection and elaboration of social and economic indicators for fisheries, sand and gravel extraction and related shipping.
- Development of the impact of the basic management scenario. Impact on socio-economic indicators and the relation to ecological reference points will be taken into account.
- Construction of a conceptual balancing model (BALANS). This model will, as much as possible, be build based on dynamic relationships between the different indicators. Different methods and techniques of integration or balancing of social, economic, and ecological indicators will be analysed and compared.
- On the basic of management optimisation scenario’s and making use of the conceptual balancing model in co-ordination with the administrations, new developments in international/national law and policy will be used to make short term and long term predictions of their socio-economical and ecological effects.

Expected results

- Detailed database of human activities and compiled database of the benthos of the BPN, evaluation of candidate indicators and selection of indicators related to this benthos.
- Development of ecotoxicological indicators of the watercolumn as a result of the focused activities.
- Application and validation of the developed indicators in a number of management scenarios.
- Identification of social and economical indicators for the focused activities.
- Relation between socio-economic indicators and ecological indicators based on a selection of indicator species derived from literature study and the database Macrodat.
- Relation between socio-economic indicators and ecological indicators based on a selection of ecotoxicological substances derived from literature and the databases.
- Comparison of methods for integration and balancing of social, economical and ecological indicators.
- A conceptual model balancing indicators for social, economical and ecological impacts of the focused activities.
- Relational database of the information relevant to the project.
- Synthetic analysis and dynamic visualisation of these data.



Maritime Institute (MI), Ghent University (Prof. Dr. Frank Maes)
The MI is a university based research institute advising and carrying out studies for governmental administrations, non-governmental organisations and private companies. The staff of the MI is i.a. specialised in research topics concerning international and national environmental law and policy, nature conservation and integrated coastal zone management, law of the sea, maritime law and shipping. The MI has been involved in North Sea research, such as the Impulse Programme on Marine Sciences (OSTC, 1992-1996), the programme Sustainable Management of the North Sea (OSTC, 1998-2002) and EC-Life research (ECOWARE-98/254) on ships’ waste reception facilities. The MI has taken the initiative to publish the "Limited Atlas of the Belgian Part of the North Sea" (2000) with the support of OSTC. Laws and regulations have been drafted by members of the MI, such as the Belgian law on the protection of the marine environment (1999), while other laws are currently in a drafting phase (decree on integrated water policy, co-operation agreement on coastal zone management, ...).

Ecolas N.V., AXE Group
Ecolas N.V. is a multidisciplinary environmental consultancy firm, active worldwide, which has gained its credits in policy supporting environmental studies. Highly trained multifunctional economists, engineers, biologists and geologists form the core of the firm. As such the company and its employees are used to solve problems where environmental, economical and social problems meet.
Both national and international projects have been successfully completed on sustainable development of a.o. the marine and coastal regions and ports. Earlier projects included:
- selection and elaboration of indicators;
- development of decision-systems and/or models;
- impact assessment of coastal or marine activities.
Other activities include EIA, OSCP, industrial environmental support, waste management, integrated water management, nature development, soil studies, ...

Marine Biology Section, Department of Biology, Ghent University (Prof. Dr. M. Vincx & Dr. S. Degraer)
The Marine Biology Section of the Department of Biology (Ghent University, Belgium) has been involved in ecological and systematic research of marine ecosystems from 1970 onwards. The research started with the investigation of North Sea benthic communities, with special focus on the macro- and meiobenthos. From 1980 onwards, research was expanded to include the hyperbenthic and epibenthic compartments. Research is still going on in the North Sea and adjacent estuaries. European estuaries have been investigated in the framework of international programmes. Since about ten years, other geographical areas have been included: Deep-sea areas in the Atlantic Ocean, Biology of the Antarctic meiobenthos, Ecology of tropical estuaries, lagoons and sandy beaches.
Next to the biological subjects geochemical characteristics are determined and analysed. All chemical methods are adapted for analysis within the sediments. Microbial aspects (radioactive labelling) and experimental microcosmos research (culture chambers and respiration chambers) are available.

Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology, Ghent University (Prof. Dr. Colin Janssen)
During the last 20 years, the Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology has performed fundamental research on different aspects of aquatic toxicology (marine and freshwater environment). The different research strategies were aimed at:
- Development of toxicity tests with different marine and freshwater aquatic organisms (algae, protozoa, rotifers, crustaceans, fish) for routine monitoring of toxicity in the aquatic environment.
- Quantification of the toxicity of water sediments (marine, freshwater) using conventional and newly developed techniques on both a fundamental and application level (e.g. sediment remediation techniques).
- Further development of Toxicity-Identification-Evaluation (T.I.E.) and Toxicity-Reduction-Evaluation (T.R.E.) techniques with effluents, sediments (freshwater, marine) and solid wastes.
- Development of biomarker techniques based on physiological and biochemical endpoints for a rapid evaluation of potential toxicity. This research includes the possible use of changes at a suborganismal level as a rapid indicator of toxic stress.
- Research towards the endocrine disrupting potential of chemicals in vertebrates and invertebrates, and this for both marine and freshwater ecosystems.
- Development of (predictive) risk assessment models in the freshwater and marine environment.
- Development of instruments for the determination of effects and costs as a result of different types of contamination in the North Sea.
Development of a specific scenario for the incorporation of ecotoxicity tests in the Flemish wastewater policy.

Management Unit of the Mathematical Models of the North Sea (MUMM) (Dr. ir. G. Pichot & ir. S. Scory)
As co-ordinator and leader of the IDOD project (set-up of the Belgian federal oceanographic data centre) MUMM has recently gained a significant and professional experience in data management activities. The tools and know-how developed during recent years will be very useful for the current project (data management and analysis). Within the MARE-DASM project, MUMM is in charge of the development of the models describing the fate of accidental oil pollutions at sea and of their incorporation, together with effect, impact and valuations modules, into an integrated system of models suitable for policy management. The pollution fate model will be of help to quantify the impact of some human activities in terms ecotoxicologic effects. In a broader perspective, it should be mentioned that MUMM’s research covers several aspects of physical, chemical and biological processes relevant for decision making. MUMM, as the Belgian official body for the management of the marine environment, apply internally its own research results and those of the Belgian and international scientific community into regulations and its control and contributes to the definition of the international (e.g. OSPAR, inter-ministerial North Sea conferences, ...) research and regulation frame. This team’s experience in oceanographic research and practical application will also serve the project.

Sea fisheries Department - CLO Ghent (DvZ) - (Ir. H. Polet)
DvZ is a multidisciplinary institute involved in research on: the rational and sustainable exploitation of living marine resources - the protection of the marine environment as a habitat for these resources - and the quality control of fishery products. The technical department of DvZ has over ten years of experience with national and international research projects and a long-standing collaboration with institutes and universities. DvZ has good contacts with the fishing industry, fishermen’s organisations and the fishery administration and worked closely together with fishermen in many projects.

The main topics in the research of the technical department are:
- selectivity of existing fishing gears;
- the development of alternative fishing techniques reducing discards and environmental impact;
- discard monitoring and study of the environmental impact of fisheries.

Contact Information

Frank Maes
Universiteit Gent (RUG)
Maritiem Instituut
Universiteitstraat 6, B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 68 95; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 69 89

Magda Vincx and Steven Degraer
Universiteit Gent (RUG)
Vakgroep Biologie - Sectie Mariene Biologie
K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 52 10; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 53 44

Colin Janssen
Universiteit Gent (RUG)
Laboratorium voor Milieutoxicologie en Aquatische Ecologie
Jozef Plateaustraat 22, B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 37 75; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 37 66

Georges Pichot and Serge Scory
Management Unit of the Mathematical Models of the North Sea (MUMM)
Gulledelle 100, B-1200 Brussels
Tel: + 32 (0)2 773 21 11; Fax : +32 (0)2 770 69 72

Hans Polet
CLO Gent - Departement Zeevisserij
Ankerstraat 1, B-8400 Oostende
Tel: +32 (0)59 34 22 53; Fax: +32 (0)59 33 06 29

Users Committee

Bernard De Putter - Flemish Administration for Waterways and Sea - Coastal Section (AWZ-AWK)
Jan Mees - Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ)
Kathy Belpaeme - Province of West-Flanders




Belgium {Geographical scope}
North Sea {Geographical scope}
Marine and Coastal {Habitat type}
Ecosystem Services {Tags}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Janssen, Colin co-promotor 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Scory, Serge co-promotor 2000-02-01 2006-04-01
Polet, Hans co-promotor 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Vincx, Magda co-promotor 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Degraer, Steven member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Pichot, Georges member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Derous, Sofie member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Hillewaert, Hans member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Maes, Frank promotor 2002-02-01 2006-04-01


Name Role Start End
Department of Marine Ecosystem Management - Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Fisheries member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Marine Biology member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Maritime Institute leader 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01


Name Role Start End
(SUMANOS) Cluster Sustainable Management North Sea partner


Reference Role
Final Report author
Annexes author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

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