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.
Kenopin David, the Mayor of Kitti Municipality, Nanid (esdepan Paulin), Patterson Shed, Director of the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, Joseph Santiago, one of Enipein's traditional chief, and Epert Mikel, one of Enipein's traditional chief discuss the future of Nahtik Marine Protected Area while looking over a nautical map of the island of Pohnpei. Photo © Nick Hall

Kenopin David, the Mayor of Kitti Municipality, Nanid (Esdepan Paulin), Patterson Shed, Director of the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, Joseph Santiago and Epert Mikel, two of Enipein’s traditional chiefs discuss the future of Nahtik Marine Protected Area while looking over a nautical map of the island of Pohnpei. Photo © Nick Hall

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.

Management ToolsBenefitsLimitations

Selectivity Controls
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 closuresSeasonal Closure

Time-of-Day Restrictions
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 closuresMarine 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 limitsLimited Access (Licenses)

Dive Hours

Number of Lines or Hooks

Trip Limits

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 limitsTotal Allowable Catch

Quotas Systems and Catch Shares (see Catch Share Design Manual)
Can be daily, seasonal, or annualDifficult 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 acidificationGlobal 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.


For an extensive list of papers and reports on this and other coral reef fisheries topics, visit the Coral Reef Fisheries Resource Library on the Conservation Gateway.


Fishing for Solutions: A Fisheries Management Guidebook for Non-Fisheries Managers

A Fishery Manager’s Guidebook

Fisheries Solution Center – whether you are a manager, a fisherman, a practitioner or any other fishery stakeholder, the manuals and supplemental guides provided will help you chart a path to a more sustainable and profitable fishery

Community-Based Marine Resource Management in Solomon Islands: A Facilitator’s Guide


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Last updated August 23, 2017

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