Monthly Archives: January 2011

Getting More From Less: How to Set Catch Limits and Assess Stocks in Data-Poor Fisheries

Recent changes to federal law mandate that fishery managers must implement annual catch limits and accountability measures for all U.S. fish stocks by 2011. For fisheries with sparse data, this is a significant challenge as traditional stock assessments are costly and demand large quantities of time and information. 

British Columbia fisherman collecting data (measuring fish size).

Many fisheries in the U.S. and around the world suffer from inadequate data – in fact, this may be more the rule than the exception. Moreover, there are many serious constraints to the timely assessment of stocks and to the development of annual catch limits in addition to lack of data – including stock assessment and vetting processes that cannot process available data with available resources.  

Fortunately, there are new tools available to help assess data-poor fisheries using easily gathered data and/or data already on hand. Depending upon the method used, data-poor assessment models allow fisheries scientists working in agencies, in advisory panels, and in other relevant bodies to estimate current population biomass, sustainable yield, the risk of overfishing, or stock status relative to specific reference points (or proxies for any or all of these).  This information can then be used to determine appropriate catch limits for target populations.

Given the large number of unassessed stocks and the urgent need for initial assessments of data poor stocks, EDF’s Ocean Innovations team has summarized relevant scientific papers into a user-friendly guide to 11 data-poor methods (available from Rod Fujita at rfujita[at]

We’re also currently working on a comparison of four data-poor methods to determine how closely they agree with results from traditional stock assessments. Preliminary results suggest that many of these methods perform well in simulation studies and in comparison with traditional stock assessment methodology (although in some cases they may result in sustainable yield estimates that are more conservative than Maximum Sustainable Yield).  Some have already been used to set Annual Catch Limits for some U.S. fisheries (see examples below).

Data-poor methods fall into four categories, depending upon the type of data each method requires and the information each method produces.  For more information on a specific method, please contact Rod Fujita at rfujita[at]

Extrapolation Methods

  • Robin Hood Approach

Life-History Vulnerability Analysis

  • Productivity and Susceptibility Analysis (PSA)

Sequential Trend Analysis

  • In-Season Depletion Estimator
  • Depletion-Corrected Average Catch (DCAC)
  • Depletion-Based Stock Reduction Analysis (DB-SRA)
  • An-Index-Method (AIM)
  • Reserve-Based Spawning Potential Ratio (Dynamic SPR)
  • Fractional Change in Lifetime Egg Production (FLEP)
  • Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index (MEI)

Decision Trees

  • Length-Based Reference Point
  • MPA-Based Decision Tree

While these methods are relatively new, they have already been successfully used to assess several U.S. fish stocks, including Atlantic wolffish, New England red crab, and 50 groundfish species on the West Coast.  

These new methods, while subject to many caveats and qualifications, are generally much faster and less expensive than traditional stock assessments. Continuing to fish stocks that are not assessed due to a lack of data poses risks to the biological and economic sustainability of fisheries. While having long-term, continuous datasets for each species is the ultimate goal, data-poor methods can help managers extract more useful information from readily available data and reduce risks associated with fishing in ignorance.

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California Fisheries Fund Partners with Bank for Exciting New Loan

CFF California Fisheries Fund (Logo)The California Fisheries Fund, a project of Environmental Defense Fund, kicked off 2011 by issuing its sixth and largest loan since the revolving loan fund was launched in 2008 to invest in sustainable fishing businesses on the West Coast.

The loan was made possible by a unique business partnership with San Francisco-based New Resource Bank. CFF and New Resource Bank partnered to extend a $3 million loan to Wild Planet Foods, a sustainable seafood company in McKinleyville, California. Read what the San Francisco Business Times had to say about the California Fisheries Fund: 

“The loans can be used to finance all kinds of improvements that foster sustainability. Some of those include upgrades in fishing gear that let fishermen catch more of the fish they’re targeting and less of the fish they’re not, and dockside infrastructure like chillers that would allow fishermen to keep and sell products locally as opposed to trucking it to other markets.”

The partnership between the California Fisheries Fund, New Resource Bank and Wild Planet represents a growing trend where for-profits and non-profits share many of the same values and an interest in mission-driven outcomes. In this case, all three organizations are driven by a mission of promoting and supporting environmental sustainability, with two of them—CFF and Wild Planet—specifically focused on sustainable fisheries.

Now the CFF is expanding its loan program outside of California to the entire West Coast. Just this week, the California Fisheries Fund closed its first loan in Washington state.  To learn more about the California Fisheries Fund, please visit:

Press release:

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Cautious Optimism and a Win for Groundfish as West Coast Catch Share Program Gets Underway

On January 11th, the new catch share program took effect for Pacific Ocean trawl-caught groundfish. The new management system was developed over a period of six years by fishermen, regulators and policymakers who recognized that the West Coast’s largest fishery was headed for the rocks.

As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, there is nervousness but also a cautious optimism that both fish and fishermen will win under the new system, just as they have in British Columbia and Alaska.

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New Study in the Journal Nature Describes the Effectiveness and promise of Community-Based Fishery Management

Kate Bonzon, EDF Director of Design Advisory Services

Kate Bonzon, EDF Director of Design Advisory Services

A new study released this week in the journal Nature describes the effectiveness and promise of community-based fishery management.  Among others, the study highlights a catch share in Chile that has 20,000 participants and covers more than 1,500 square miles “making it one of the most successful abalone* fisheries in the world.”  The kind of catch share that covers this fishery is called a territorial use rights for fishing or TURF, an area-based management program that assigns a specific area to an individual, group or community.

*The Chilean system manages loco, a valuable sea snail, commonly called “false abalone” due to its appearance and taste.

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Trading the Certainty of Failure for the Challenges of Change

Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, is one of the West Coast’s most storied fishing ports. When Lewis & Clark set up their winter camp in 1805, the people of this storm-tossed corner of Oregon had been sustaining themselves with seafood for hundreds of generations. In recent years, however, earning a living from the sea has been tough for Astoria-based fishermen.

In an editorial about the new groundfish catch share program that goes into effect on January 11th, The Daily Astorian weighs the challenges inherent in this change against the certain failure of the status quo – and comes down squarely for change. The conclusions they have reached are shared by many fishery stakeholders and fishery managers, as well as the Environmental Defense Fund.

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