Lessons learned from practical approaches to reconcile mismatches between biological population structure and stock units of marine fish

Lisa A. Kerr, Niels T. Hintzen, Steven X. Cadrin, Lotte Worsøe Clausen, Mark Dickey-Collas, Daniel R. Goethel, Emma M. C. Hatfield, Jacob P. Kritzer, Richard D.M. Nash

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Recent advances in the application of stock identification methods have revealed inconsistencies between the spatial structure of biological populations and the definition of stock units used in assessment and management. From a fisheries management perspective, stocks are typically assumed to be discrete units with homogeneous vital rates that can be exploited independently of each other. However, the unit stock assumption is often violated leading to spatial mismatches that can bias stock assessment and impede sustainable fisheries management. The primary ecological concern is the potential for overexploitation of unique spawning components, which can lead to loss of productivity and reduced biodiversity along with destabilization of local and regional stock dynamics. Furthermore, ignoring complex population structure and stock connectivity can lead to misperception of the magnitude of fish productivity, which can translate to suboptimal utilization of the resource. We describe approaches that are currently being applied to improve the assessment and management process for marine fish in situations where complex spatial structure has led to an observed mismatch between the scale of biological populations and spatially-defined stock units. The approaches include: (i) status quo management, (ii) “weakest link” management, (iii) spatial and temporal closures, (iv) stock composition analysis, and (v) alteration of stock boundaries. We highlight case studies in the North Atlantic that illustrate each approach and synthesize the lessons learned from these real-world applications. Alignment of biological and management units requires continual monitoring through the application of stock identification methods in conjunction with responsive management to preserve biocomplexity and the natural stability and resilience of fish species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1708-1722
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • biocomplexity
  • connectivity
  • fisheries management
  • population structure
  • spatial structure
  • stock assessment
  • stock identification


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