Mature gonads of an emperor fish caught for the Palau Stock Assessment Project.

Working Group:
Data-Limited Fisheries

Overfishing threatens the health of many of the world’s fish stocks — and the millions who rely on fish for their livelihood and animal protein. But we lack regular assessment data for more than 90% of Earth’s fisheries…and reliably assessed fisheries tend to be better managed and thus less overfished. Can new, inexpensive approaches to assess such data-limited fisheries be implemented across the globe?

Photo: Andrew Smith | More Info
Palau spear fisherman hunts for fish outside Pohnpei's reef.
Photo: Ami Vitale

Working Group Summary

Can New Science Help Assess Fish Stocks Worldwide?

Scientists have developed innovative, inexpensive approaches to assess data-limited fisheries. But there are still significant barriers to widespread implementation of these approaches. This Working Group will develop guidance for implementing these approaches universally — and build local understanding of why that information is important and how to act on it. We will convene fish stock assessors, social scientists, ecologists and marine conservation practitioners to tackle the challenge.

Learn about the Challenge

Crescent-tail Bigeye (Priacanthus hamrur) in Palau.
Photo: Dr. Steve Genkins

The Challenge

Implementing Reliable Assessment Solutions Across the Globe

More than 85 percent of marine fisheries are depleted, overfished or being fished at their biological limit. Current inefficiencies in management practices cost the world’s economy an estimated $50 billion a year as well as enough protein to provide up to 300 million people with their minimum daily requirement.

Fisheries that have reliable stock assessments tend to be better managed. But of the 10,000 fisheries in the world, fewer than 440 (mostly in upper-income countries and in top-traded fish like tuna) are regularly assessed with robust scientific methods. Meanwhile, fish landings have skyrocketed in the developing world — nearly an 80% growth since 1988. The majority of these stocks are data-limited, unassessed, poorly managed and far more likely to be overfished.

The consequences of overfishing and poor fisheries management are profound — for the more than 260 million people on Earth who directly or indirectly earn their livelihoods in this sector; for present and future food supplies as human population grows to more than 9 billion this century; and for biodiversity and ecosystems.

New, less resource-intensive assessment techniques for data-limited fisheries have been developed that could help advance science-based decision-making and lead to sustainable fishery management. But implementation of these techniques has lagged across the globe, in part because each management scenario requires not just 1) an understanding of available assessment tools, but also 2) an understanding of how to account for uncertainty in model outputs and biases in data, and 3) experience in evaluating tradeoffs between multiple objectives. Moreover, many fisheries lack a concerted data-collection protocol for assessment and management purposes.

Read About the Inquiry

Rock Islands, Republic of Palau, Palau.

The Inquiry

Developing a Framework and Guidance for Fishing Communities That Can Scale

Working Group Goals

1. Develop a fisheries assessment and management framework that can be applied across geographies, fishery archetypes, data availability and spatial scales.

2. Provide risk-based guidance on the socio-economic and conservation value of improved data collection and understanding of stock status.

3. Identify and implement adaptive assessment and management guidelines in collaboration with Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Society field programs as well as potentially other NGOs.

Proposed Activities

1. Develop a holistic framework for assessing and managing data-limited fisheries

  • Compile all known published and unpublished data-limited assessment methodologies — including a review of social, biological and economic metrics that can be used as performance indicators for assessing the status of fisheries.
  • Develop categories of fishery archetypes based on life history, spatial scale, value, governance structure and other variables.
  • Compare and contrast existing data-limited assessment methods across fishery archetypes in terms of common objectives such as maximizing profits while minimizing risk of stock collapse. Synthesize outputs to develop an understanding of the pros and cons of utilizing specific approaches and indicators across archetypes.
  • Develop a comprehensive assessment and management framework that integrates multiple approaches and indicators to be applied across fishery archetypes, data streams, spatial scales, fishery values and governance structures.
  • Time: 12 months to compile database and to compare and contrast methods, and 24 months to finalize the framework for export.

2. Analyze the “value of information” for fisheries assessment

  • Using case studies and expert knowledge, quantify the costs of collecting and analyzing various types of fisheries data for each fishery archetype.
  • Quantify the value of collecting data in addition to the data-poor fishery assessments with regard to the costs of data gathering and the benefits in terms of risk reduction and improved socio-economic and conservation outcomes.
  • Use results from this “value of information” analysis to 1) design adaptive management guidelines for fisheries practitioners, and 2) provide guidance towards maximizing fishery returns on investment in monitoring, data collection and use of alternative assessment approaches.
  • Time: 12 months to perform modeling and quantify value of additional data collection, monitoring and management.
  • Key products include a formal analysis of the social, economic and biological value of various types of data collection and management interventions. Grant agencies, fisheries practitioners and scientists can use this document to make informed investment decisions to guide management programs.

3. Implement assessment and management framework

  • Select priority fisheries for The Nature Conservancy and WCS in the three regions.
  • Organize data and utilization of the assessment and management framework.
  • Design adaptive management and monitoring protocols tailored to the economic value, scale and structure of the case study fisheries.
  • Conduct 3 workshops in each of the key regions for WCS and The Nature Conservancy (Africa, Indonesia/Coral Triangle, and Humboldt Current) and transfer skills and knowledge to WCS and Nature Conservancy field staff. Workshops will include discussions on the value of engaging local fishers in the data collection, analysis, application and enforcement of the management framework to ensure buy-in of proposed reforms.
  • Train fisheries practitioners in the use of the assessment and management framework.

Time: 12 months to organize field programs, engage fishing communities and train staff.

Meet the Team

Photo: Jez O'Hare | More Info

The Team

The Data-Limited Fisheries Team

SNAP