Revisiting safe biological limits in fisheries
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The appropriateness of three official fisheries management reference points used in the north-east Atlantic was investigated: (i) the smallest stock size that is still within safe biological limits (SSBpa), (ii) the maximum sustainable rate of exploitation (F-msy) and (iii) the age at first capture. As for (i), in 45% of the examined stocks, the official value for SSBpa was below the consensus estimates determined from three different methods. With respect to (ii), the official estimates of F-msy exceeded natural mortality M in 76% of the stocks, although M is widely regarded as natural upper limit for F-msy. And regarding (iii), the age at first capture was below the age at maturity in 74% of the stocks. No official estimates of the stock size (SSBmsy) that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) are available for the north-east Atlantic. An analysis of stocks from other areas confirmed that twice SSBpa provides a reasonable preliminary estimate. Comparing stock sizes in 2013 against this proxy showed that 88% were below the level that can produce MSY. Also, 52% of the stocks were outside of safe biological limits, and 12% were severely depleted. Fishing mortality in 2013 exceeded natural mortality in 73% of the stocks, including those that were severely depleted. These results point to the urgent need to re-assess fisheries reference points in the north-east Atlantic and to implement the regulations of the new European Common Fisheries Policy regarding sustainable fishing pressure, healthy stock sizes and adult age/size at first capture.