Data-Limited Fisheries Management

Treefish. CDFW file photo.

The Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), which became law on January 1, 1999, requires that marine living resources be sustainably managed and that management be based upon the best available scientific and other relevant information. However, many fisheries and other resources are data-limited. These fisheries lack Essential Fishery Information (EFI), both biological and socioeconomic, which hinders efforts to fully assess stock status. Collection of EFI to fill data gaps can be costly and time consuming, although new approaches to data collection may provide the means to fill in some of them.

According to the MLMA, lack of information should not preclude efforts to address the sustainability of the resource. At the federal level, a precautionary approach is generally used to manage species where EFI is insufficient for a full stock assessment. This approach was incorporated into the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan.

In recent years, data-limited fishery assessment has developed into a robust field of research. The MLMA Master Plan, updated in 2018, is a document that provides a roadmap and toolbox for implementation. It outlines a collection of data-limited fisheries assessment techniques. Included in these is management strategy evaluation (MSE). MSE is a decision analysis method that simulates the dynamics of a fishery, both biological and harvest, as well as several types of uncertainty. Stock dynamics are projected into the future under alternative management approaches and performance metrics are compared.

In 2021, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) completed a project to conduct several case study MSEs for California fisheries in collaboration with the creators of an MSE software tool. The tool, openMSE, is a collection of options for data-rich to data-limited fisheries with data-limited management procedures collected in the data-limited methods toolkit (DLMtool).

Kellet's Whelk (CDFW file photo) and Hornshark (Photograph courtesy of Derek Stein).

CDFW - Data-Limited Methods Toolkit Project (July 2015-July 2021)

A collaborative effort with scientists at Blue Matter Science and SeaChange Analytics with funding provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the Resources Legacy Fund, and the Ocean Protection Council (OPC).

OPC and CDFW - Management Procedures Project (October 2008-May 2011)

A project that examined the potential of management procedures as a decision making tool for fisheries management in California. This effort was conducted through an OPC-funded contract and with the assistance of CDFW staff. The final report has two parts. The first part describes fisheries management procedures, their benefits, and potential pitfalls. The second part evaluates the 19 species included in the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan. A copy of this report can be requested through

Fish and Game Commission, Marine Resources Committee Meeting (May 25, 2010)

Data-Poor Fisheries Management Panel Presentations

Managing Data-Poor Fisheries Workshop (December 1-4, 2008)

Held in Berkeley, California and funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Sea Grant, and the Resources Legacy Fund.