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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 towards 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 local, national and international levels appears to be key to sustaining fish populations and food production.

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Fig. 1: Implementation history of fisheries management measures for assessed stocks, showing steady increases globally over the past half century.
Fig. 2: Stock status history relative to the timing of fisheries management interventions.
Fig. 3: Effects of management, fishery and life-history attributes on annual changes in relative fishing pressure and relative biomass.
Fig. 4: Predicted effects of fisheries management interventions on stock status.
Fig. 5: Equilibrium predictions at different combinations of stock-level and national-level management intensity.

Data availability

Stock assessment data are compiled in RAMLDB (version 4.491-mdl-fits)22, which is publicly available at

Code availability

All data input files and code to reproduce analyses are publicly available at


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Fisheries experts who graciously provided management-related information are listed in Supplementary Note 3. Many other scientists generously contributed data to RAMLDB. C. Costello provided helpful comments on the manuscript. J. Sanders, D. Ovando, H. Bassett, A. Faraj, S. Segurado and J. Wilson provided valuable feedback. Fisheries and Oceans Canada granted permission to reproduce the flounder illustration in the Fig. 2 inset. This work was supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership programme (working group ‘Fisheries Measures’) from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, which was funded by the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. RAMLDB has been supported by funding from the Walton Family Foundation and a consortium of Seattle fishing companies. T.A.B. was funded in part by the Richard C. and Lois M. Worthington Endowed Professorship in Fisheries Management. The scientific results and conclusions, as well as any views or opinions expressed herein, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of NOAA or the US Department of Commerce.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Specific contributions made by each author are listed by role, following the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) model. Conceptualization: M.C.M., H.K., P.M.M., C.M., O.P.J., C.L.d.M., A.M.P., T.A.B., C.M.A., C.S.S., J.K.B., T.R.M., Y.Y., R.H. Data curation: M.C.M., D.H. Formal analysis: M.C.M., C.M., D.H. Funding acquisition: R.H. Investigation: M.C.M., H.K., P.M.M., M.P., C.M., G.C.O., O.P.J., C.L.d.M., A.M.P., L.R.L., D.H., C.E.A., N.B., R.O.A., J.K.B., T.R.M., A.L., J.B., G.G.T., J.D., A.M., B.B., E.W., J.R. Methodology: M.C.M., C.M., O.P.J., A.M.P., T.A.B., C.S.S., R.H. Project administration: M.C.M., R.H. Resources: R.H. Software: M.C.M., C.M., D.H. Supervision: M.C.M., R.H. Validation: M.C.M., H.K., P.M.M., M.P., C.M., G.C.O., O.P.J., C.L.d.M., A.M.P., L.R.L., D.H., R.O.A., C.M.A., Y.Y., J.R. Visualization: M.C.M., C.M., T.A.B. Writing (original draft): M.C.M. Writing (review and editing): M.C.M., H.K., P.M.M., M.P., C.M., G.C.O., O.P.J., C.L.d.M., A.M.P., L.R.L., D.H., C.E.A., N.B., T.A.B., C.M.A., C.S.S., J.K.B., T.R.M., Y.Y., A.L., G.G.T., J.D., B.B., J.R., R.H.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael C. Melnychuk.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Most authors are involved in fisheries management or provide fisheries advice in ways that can be viewed by some as competing interests. Many are employed by national fisheries agencies or non-governmental organizations that advocate for specific fisheries policies. The academic scientists have received funding from sources that include government fisheries agencies, fishing companies and environmental non-governmental organizations.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks J. C. Gutierrez-Estrada, A. Tsikliras and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Discussion, Notes 1–3, references, Tables 3–7 and Figs. 2–10.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Management measures considered as predictor variables potentially affecting stock status.

Supplementary Table 2

National/international-level fisheries management measures treated as interventions potentially affecting stock status.

Supplementary Table 8

Summary of comparisons between sensitivity analyses and main run of results.

Supplementary Fig. 1

Stock status history relative to the timing of fisheries management interventions for 288 individual stocks included in analyses.

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Melnychuk, M.C., Kurota, H., Mace, P.M. et al. Identifying management actions that promote sustainable fisheries. Nat Sustain 4, 440–449 (2021).

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