Theme session Q

Harvest control rules: beyond FMSY for an ecosystem approach to fisheries?

Monday 19 September 15:00—19:00 in Beta 2
Didier Gascuel (France)
Lisa Borges (Belgium)
Dave Reid (Ireland)​

​​​​Contact conveners​​​

Most fisheries management systems have some kind of Harvest Control Rule (HCR) in place. HCRs can differ widely in their objectives, reference points, and levels of acceptable risk, as they operate in different societies and systems with different economic, social, and environmental goals. In particular, while management of mortality rates is an essential part of all HCRs, there are other biological parameters that can play critical roles. These include species biomass, age and size, growth, and spatial and temporal variability among others. Environmental management considerations should also be involved, such as objectives for biodiversity, food webs, and sea floor integrity. Finally, social and economic aspects need to be included.

The EUs reformed Common Fisheries Policy​ (CFP) includes the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (Article 2.2.). The CFP also specifies that an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management (EBAFM) should be developed to ensure that the negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine environment are minimized (Article 2.3). To date, however, there has been little scientific discussion what the "above BMSY" or the "minimized impacts" objectives actually entail and how they should be incorporated into harvest strategies.

In many countries outside the EU rules are different. In the US for instance, according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorized in 2007, annual catch limits are set below the Overfishing limit (OCL), the amount of catch produced by FMSY and BMSY is used as a rebuilding target. In New Zealand, FMEY is a target reference point that can be adapted to account for mixed-species, while in Australia BMEY is being considered as the required target stock size.

BMSY as a fisheries management reference point was agreed to in most international fora (UNCLOS 1982, UNFSA 1985, WSSD 2002, and Rio+20 2012) but is still not explicitly used in HCRs applied to European stocks or even estimated and used by ICES in their advice. Furthermore, a number of scientists have stated that EBAFM and fisheries economic sustainability considerations suggest that more conservative targets than MSY may be warranted. In the EU, the MSFD​ opens the door to objectives beyond F- and B-based measures, though it is not yet clear how HCRs will contribute to the achievement of Good Environmental Status.

The key question addressed during this session will be
"What should HCRs be in order to meet the objectives of: rebuilding stocks above BMSY; ensuring fisheries profitability; operationalizing EBAFM; and achieving Good Environmental Status of marine ecosystems?"


Presentations from the following research areas are welcomed:

  • What does "above BMSY" actually mean? How much above? With what degree of certainty? How should that target accommodate ecosystem needs and/or fisheries profitability?
  • How do HCRs need to be designed to achieve healthy stocks as defined not only by abundance levels, but also by age and size considerations and other factors?
  • How to define trades-offs between stocks in a mixed fisheries context? Is the method of FMSY ranges developed by ICES a promising or dangerous option? Is it in accordance with EBAFM?
  • How can species interactions, as well as the objective to minimize ecosystem impacts, be incorporated into the harvest strategies? 
  • How can HCRs be adapted to ensure that they contribute to achieving Good Environmental Status or marine ecosystems (for instance, under the EU MSFD, descriptor 3 on commercial fish and shellfish and also descriptor 1 on biodiversity, descriptor 4 on trophic networks, and descriptor 6 on the seabed)?
  • How can the performance of different HCRs and frameworks for advice be evaluated against the objectives of fisheries policies such as the CFP (e.g., BMSY, EBAFM)?
  • What are the lessons learned from experience in non-EU countries where alternative HCRs have been implemented?


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Theme session Q

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