Challenges and Opportunities with Fishery Targets and Limits​

ICES My Fish symposium takes place this week,
27–30 October in Athens, Greece, and aims to  "document and synthesise the best quality scientific approaches to management advice and implementation under potentially conflicting objectives".
Published: 30 October 2015

​​Anthony Charles is a professor at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. ​He is a keynote speaker at the My Fish symposium in the session that addresses Practical implementation of targets and limits: institutional frameworks which deliver.

The idea of setting targets and limits in fisheries has a strong logic to it. We need targets, or we will not know what direction to take in the fishery, and we need limits, so we do not cause damage by going too far in any one direction. Over the course of recent decades, there has been considerable success in developing targets and limits relating to biological aspects of individual fish stocks and their exploitation. I suggest taking this success with a grain of salt (as my involvement in the aftermath of Canada's "cod collapse" has made me an advocate for humility in fishery science and management), but certainly the development of targets and limits in the context of risk-based fishery analysis has been a positive move.

A key challenge remains, however, in building a more comprehensive set of fishery targets and limits. In a multi-objective world, with pursuit of sustainable development invariably including ecological, social and economic goals, the targets we set must cover all those dimensions. This is common sense: if our goals are diverse, the targets must match. Importantly, the same is true of the limits we set. Just as ecological limits to resource use will constrain when, where and how much fishing takes place, so will social and economic limits help us avoid fishery options that are excessively negative in their impacts on social or economic goals (e.g., social values, economic viability, and fishing community well-being).

As we move to the future, I suspect that progress in development and implementation of fishery targets and limits will be needed in three main areas:

  1. Taking into account ecological objectives and constraints that go beyond individual fish stocks
  2. Incorporating a range of economic, social and institutional dimensions not yet fully considered
  3. Broadening the approach to targets and limits that cover human use of oceans more generally, with a multi-sectoral approach including sectors beyond fisheries

The need to move in these directions is reinforced by several trends: increasing acceptance and adoption of the ecosystem approach to fisheries, a newly-reinforced emphasis on sustainable development goals and on multi-sectoral marine planning, and tensions between the two 'streams' of governance (Garcia et al., 2014​) focused on fishery resource use and management, and on biodiversity conservation. In particular, the latter tensions raise questions as to how targets and limits for fisheries can meet the needs of both streams (e.g., incorporating fishery goals as well as those of the Convention on Biological Diversity). ​

In the coming years, I expect we will see an emphasis on addressing these challenges. Fundamentally, how do we ensure that societal values are reflected in the targets and limits set in fisheries? What should we monitor to keep track of the effects of our decision-making processes? How precautionary must we be in setting limits? And fundamentally, who should be involved in answering these questions and in deciding on targets and limits.  All of this will require an 'integrated' interdisciplinary perspective, one that takes into account the human dimensions that represent major drivers of change in fisheries and in marine ecosystems.  


Garcia, S.M., J. Rice and A. Charles. "Governance of Marine Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation: Interaction and Coevolution". Wiley-Blackwell. Oxford, U.K., 552p. (2014).

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​Anthony Charles. Photo: Saint Mary's Universiity.​​

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Challenges and Opportunities with Fishery Targets and Limits​

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