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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Including older fish in fisheries management: A new age-based indicator and reference point for exploited fish stocks

Griffiths, Christopher; Winker, Henning; Bartolino, Valerio; Wennhage, Håkan; Orio, Alessandro; Cardinale, Massimiliano


Larger and older fish contribute disproportionately to spawning and play an important role in the replenishment of exploited stocks. Fishing often removes specific size- and age-classes, with direct impacts on stock productivity and population resilience. Despite this, fisheries advice is commonly based on estimates of spawning stock biomass (SSB) and fishing mortality (F) and makes little reference to the importance of size and/or age structure. Consequently, there is a need for indicators of size and/or age structure to better inform fisheries management and help assess global sustainability goals. Here, we introduce a new age-based indicator ABI(MSY) that monitors age structure relative to the equilibrium age structure at F-MSY. We apply this new indicator to 72 commercially important stocks in the Northeast Atlantic, covering 26 species, which collectively contributed 86% of all commercial catches in the region in 2019. We estimate that 62% (45 stocks) currently have proportionally fewer older fish relative to F-MSY conditions, whereas 38% (27 stocks) have proportionally more older fish; we also note patterns with respect to geographic area and taxonomic family. Simulation testing demonstrated that ABI(MSY) is responsive to overfishing and generally tracks (with high sensitivity and specificity) a common measure of stock depletion, SSB relative to B-MSY. Throughout, we show that ABI(MSY) provides information on the age structure of exploited stocks that is complementary to conventional reference points for SSB and F. Further, the framework used to estimate ABI(MSY )make it well placed for integration into current advisory frameworks on fisheries management.


age structure; BOFFF fish; fisheries advice; good environmental status; maximum sustainable yield; stock assessment

Published in

Fish and Fisheries
2024, Volume: 25, number: 1, pages: 18-37
Publisher: WILEY