In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marine Fisheries Management

  • Introduction
  • Historical Background
  • Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management
  • Overfishing
  • Essential Fish Habitats and Marine Protected Areas

Ecology Marine Fisheries Management
Jonathan H. Grabowski, Sean P. Powers, Steven B. Scyphers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0178


Human civilizations have relied on the sea as a source of protein for millennia, with shellfish middens serving as some of the earliest evidence of humans’ ecological footprint on earth. Fish now provide protein for much of this planet’s population, with approximately three billion people receiving over 20 percent of their animal protein from fish. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) estimates that global fisheries landings amount to ninety million metric tons. Given that our capacity to harvest most fisheries species, if unchecked, can easily surpass their ability to repopulate coupled with continued population growth intensifying fishing pressure, informal and formal regulatory measures have been adopted in many aquatic ecosystems to maintain fish populations and associated fisheries. Here we cover efforts to manage both industrialized, data-rich fisheries that are formally assessed and more informal efforts to manage data-poor fisheries such as those common to the developing world. We first focus on efforts to manage industrial fish stocks, which initially hinged upon generating biologically based recommendations regarding stock harvest levels. More recent marine fisheries management efforts have also begun to consider economic, social, and ecosystem-based factors, yet they have proven challenging to fully adopt and effectively integrate into management systems. We then cover the effects of overfishing on marine food webs; efforts to manage fish habitat as well as the consequences of destructive fishing practices; and the importance of environmental drivers, water quality, invasive species, and other factors that threaten the sustainability of marine fish populations. Finally, we explore the importance of considering managing people and the importance of human well-being as a means to sustain both the ecosystem and their valuable resources that humans rely upon. We build on this concept by exploring some of the earliest fisheries management systems that evolved in artisanal fisheries. These fisheries have rarely been assessed and often involve comanagement, where fishers contribute actively to the management of their resources. While we introduce artisanal and industrialized fisheries separately here, many of the lessons learned from efforts to manage both types of fisheries overlap conceptually and in practice.

General Overviews

Several overviews examining the fisheries science that are used in management have been compiled since the mid- to late 20th century. For a historical overview of fisheries science up to 1955, see Smith 1994. Ricker 1975 provides an overview of the quantitative techniques used in quantifying key life-history parameters of fishes that are integral to stock assessment science. Other works have aimed to integrate marine ecology and fisheries science, such as Cushing 1975 and May 1984 (cited under Single-Species versus Ecosystem-Based Management). In addition to covering the quantitative methods in fisheries science and stock assessment models, Hilborn and Walters 1992 is a seminal textbook that focuses on understanding fisher behavior and considers management options and strategies that are optimal and adaptive. King 2007 provides a primer on fisheries science and management that is very approachable. Jennings, et al. 2001 is another introductory textbook with a stronger emphasis on stock assessment modeling and conservation issues.

  • Cushing, D. H. 1975. Marine ecology and fisheries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Cushing aims to reunite marine ecology and fisheries. He first covers the mechanisms driving marine productivity including the models that have been developed. He then reviews population dynamics of several commercial fish stocks. Finally, he reviews how methods used in marine ecology need to be applied to fisheries research.

  • Hilborn, R., and C. J. Walters. 1992. Quantitative fisheries stock assessment: Choice, dynamics, and uncertainty. New York: Chapman and Hall.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4615-3598-0

    The authors emphasize that fisheries systems are not in equilibrium and that uncertainty is pervasive but often ignored by fisheries managers. In addition to focusing on estimating and quantifying parameters, the book covers how fish and fishers behave and provides perspectives on harvest strategies/tactics, optimization methods, and adaptive management.

  • Jennings, S., M. J. Kaiser, and J. D. Reynolds. 2001. Marine fisheries ecology. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

    Student textbook that covers fisheries from biological, economic, and social perspectives as well as how they are interconnected in fisheries conservation and management. Deals with environmental impacts of fishing, ecological interactions influence on population dynamics, industrial fishing, resource conflicts, and the incorporation of uncertainty and precautionary principles in fisheries management.

  • King, M. 2007. Fisheries biology, assessment and management. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118688038

    A highly approachable textbook for undergraduate fisheries students. It starts with a superficial overview of marine ecology and ecosystems, and the biology of exploited species. Then it covers gear design and fishing practices, stock structure, population dynamics, stock assessment, and fisheries management, including the components of a fisheries management plan.

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2006. NOAA Fisheries Glossary. Silver Spring, MD: US Department of Commerce.

    A comprehensive glossary of fisheries terms.

  • Ricker, W. F. 1975. Computation and interpretation of biological statistics of fish populations. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin No. 191. Ottawa, Canada: Department of the Environment.

    A comprehensive review of common fish sampling and quantification methods such as mark-recapture, catch per unit effort, fishing success, and age composition. The book details how to use these methods to quantify key fish population parameters, including survival and mortality rates, growth rates, recruitment, stock-recruitment relationships, and equilibrium yield.

  • Smith, T. D. 1994. Scaling fisheries: The science of measuring the effects of fishing, 1855–1955. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511470868

    An excellent overview of the history of fisheries science up to 1955.

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