Identifying management actions that promote sustainable fisheries
Which management actions work best to prevent or halt overfishing and to rebuild depleted populations? A comprehensive evaluation of multiple, co-occurring management actions on the sustainability status of marine populations has been lacking. Here, we compiled detailed management histories for 288 assessed fisheries from around the world (accounting for 45% of those with formal stock assessments) and used hierarchical time series analyses to estimate effects of different management interventions on trends in stock status. Rebuilding plans, applied less commonly than other management measures (implemented at some point historically for 43% of stocks), rapidly lowered fishing pressure toward target levels and emerged as the most important factor enabling overfished populations to recover. Additionally, the ratification of international fishing agreements, and harvest control rules specifying how catch limits should vary with population biomass, helped to reduce overfishing and rebuild biomass. Notably, we found that benefits of management actions are cumulative—as more are implemented, stock status improves and predicted long-term catches increase. Thus, a broad suite of management measures at all levels appears to be key to sustaining fish populations and food production.