While understanding changes in fish populations, species composition, and ecosystem condition are critical to making informed decisions, effective fishery management includes a management strategy with two components:
- management tools to regulate how much fish are taken from the ocean;
- harvest control rules that trigger when and how much to adjust management.
Management tools may be designed and applied to manage a number of different aspects of a fishery, including species composition, catch-per-unit-effort of fishing, spatial patterns of harvesting, and single or multiple species populations. In the Northern Reefs of Palau, management tools such as size limits and closed areas have been used to limit fishing-related mortality of juveniles and help maintain a healthy spawning population of important coral reef fish species.
Harvest control rules may be implemented in response to changes in indicators of stock status (e.g. making adjustments to the size of a closed area based on the size of the fish being harvest from that area). Ideally, these rules are based on data indicating how fishing is affecting stocks. Harvest control rules are intended to maximize production while maintaining the sustainability of the fishery.
Good management tools and harvest control rules will depend strongly on the biological, socio-economic, and governance characteristics of the fishery and the community. Effective fishery management requires clearly defined goals, the inclusion of all fishery stakeholders in the development of management tools and harvest control rules, and measures to assess the latter’s effectiveness against the stated goals.
|Gear Modification and Restriction|
(see Rebuilding Global Fisheries)
|Useful in multi-species fisheries to minimize targeting vulnerable species|
Effective at reducing by-catch
Useful where there is little capacity for monitoring and enforcement
Tend to favor maximum employment policies
|May be susceptible to effort creep
Focuses more on avoiding limit reference points rather than achieving targets
Can still lead to losses in critical ecosystem services
|Minimum Size Limit|
Maximum Size Limit
(see Palau and/or Belize Case Study)
|Useful for protecting juveniles or mega-spawners |
Useful for protecting slow-growing, long-lived species with variable recruitment
Useful where there is little capacity for monitoring and enforcement
|Not effective for rejected fish with poor survivorship|
|Temporal closures||Seasonal Closure|
|Can be daily, seasonal, or trigger-based|
Useful if there are temporal spawning grounds
Useful if there are seasonal concentrations of effort
|Unlikely to be effective at reducing effort unless coupled with other tools like catch limits or gear restrictions|
|Spatial closures||Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) |
(see Belize, Wakatobi, and/or Galapagos Case Studies)
No-Take Zones (NTZs: see Papua New Guinea, Belize, Wakatobi and/or Bonaire Case Studies)
Territorial User Rights in Fishing (TURFs: see Territorial Use Rights for Fishing)
Move-on Provisions (see Guidelines for Developing Formal Harvest Strategies for Data-poor Species and Fisheries)
|Can be rotational, seasonal, permanent, or trigger-based|
Most effective for sedentary species
Useful if there are spatial spawning grounds or habitat vulnerable to fishing
Useful if there are spatial concentrations of effort
May maximize benefits to tourism markets and provide benefits to fishers from spillover and recruitment
|Not effective for highly migratory species
Does not address Latent effort
May have high management costs that can result in conflict and displacement of fishers
|Effort limits||Limited Access (Licenses)|
Number of Lines or Hooks
Net Setting Time
|Can be daily, seasonal, or annual|
Common control for restricting number of boats or fishers in a fishery
|Difficult if there are many fleets
Inappropriate for fishers who rely on subsistence fishing
May be problematic in multi-species fisheries if these include species at risk of overfishing
|Catch limits||Total Allowable Catch|
Quotas Systems and Catch Shares (see Catch Share Design Manual)
|Can be daily, seasonal, or annual||Difficult if there are many fleets
May not be easy to regulate within a multi-species context
Managing Fisheries for People and Ecosystem Health
Coral reef managers often face difficult trade-offs between meeting the interests of the fishing sector and those of biodiversity conservation. In most successful examples to date, fishing communities benefit most from an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management. In ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM), multiple objectives are managed for the reef ecosystem as a whole, to ensure the long-term health of coral reefs and fish populations and maintain other ecosystem services that the reef provides, such as tourism, shoreline protection, and other cultural values. In other words, EBFM ensures that in addition to fisheries, communities continue to benefit from the multiple advantages that the reef provides.
Additionally, rights-based approaches that guarantee fishers’ access to, use of, and control over fishing grounds or fish stocks safeguard livelihoods and access to food for fishing communities.
Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management
Ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) advocates a holistic approach to resource management that recognizes maintenance of ecosystem functions and services as a primary objective for fisheries management. It also has a strong focus on incorporating uncertainties, variability, and predicted changes into fishery management. The ecosystem approach greatly increases the alignment in management objectives between fisheries and reef conservation, potentially allowing for a collaborative approach with a shared focus on building reef resilience. Managers may help ensure a resilient coral reef ecosystem by incorporating the following objectives into fishery management.
Maintain a sustainable harvest — Fish stocks are limited and biological productivity constrains the potential yield from a fishery. In a healthy, unfished coral reef, the fish biomass is estimated to be 1,200–1,300 kg/ha. The multispecies maximum sustainable yield (BMMSY) is between 25–50% of the unfished biomass, or ≈300–750 kg/ha. ref
Protect functional groups — The importance of protecting key functional groups, such as top predators and herbivores, has been recognized. Whether motivated by economic considerations (such as protecting sharks to support dive tourism) or ecological concerns (bans on catching herbivorous fish to reduce the risk of algae out-competing corals on reefs), protecting key functional groups is a key strategy for the support of reef resilience. Protecting functional groups also provides an important area of collaboration between coral reef managers and fishery managers.
Reduce by-catch — The incidental catch of non-target species or undersized animals during fishing operations can have significant impacts on coral reef biodiversity. Sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, juvenile fishes, and even species such as sponges and sea fans can be significant by-catch in some fisheries.
Protect spawning aggregations — Protection of spawning aggregations is important for both fishery management and biodiversity conservation. Maintaining healthy breeding populations (seed sources) of reef fish is critical for the sustainability and health of coral reef systems. Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations has resources to support efforts to protect fish aggregations.
Protect critical areas — Reef species depend on coral reefs and associated habitats (e.g. mangroves, seagrasses) for food, shelter, and reproduction. In addition to spawning aggregations, other critical areas to protect include: nursery grounds, mitigation corridors, and naturally resistant/resilient areas.
Manage risk from climate change and ocean acidification— Global climate change stressors (i.e. warming seas, sea-level rise, changes in storm patterns, and changes in oceanic currents) and ocean acidification are dramatically affecting coral reef ecosystems. Management actions at the local scale during events of severe stress can play an important role in minimizing the severity of damage and supporting recovery.
Rights-Based Fisheries Management
Rights-based fisheries management (RBFM) creates enabling conditions that may improve the health of fish populations, because fishers are incentivized to become long-term stewards of the ecosystem. Rights-based systems can improve ecosystem health through fishers voluntarily restoring fishery habitat, establishing private marine protected areas, and reducing overall fishing effort. ref Examples of RBFM include territorial use rights in fishing (where the rights to fishing locations are allocated to individual fishers or groups of fishers) and fishing cooperatives (where groups of fishers act collectively to manage some aspect of the fishery).
In addition to ecosystem benefits, RBFM may enhance the economic performance of the fishery as a whole. With a right to a share in a fishery, the incentive is to maximize economic benefits by reducing the costs associated with fishing and/or by increasing the value of the catch. However, rights-based systems may create conflicts when the distribution of exclusive rights results in a redistribution of wealth that has clear winners and losers.