Skip to main content


Fisheries Management

Module titleFisheries Management
Module codeBIOM4040
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Callum Roberts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The ocean has been exploited for seafood for over 160,000 years, with commercial fishing developing several thousand years ago around the Mediterranean and Black Seas. For most of human history the sea has supported prolific and plentiful fish which provided a valuable source of food and income. In the last two hundred years, however, overfishing and destructive fishing have become increasingly prevalent, to the detriment of fish and shellfish, their habitats, and the people that depend on them. Overfishing has also led to serious adverse impacts on ecosystem functioning, leading to a loss of crucial ecosystem processes and services. In this module you will learn about the long history of fishing, the methods used to catch fish, and the theory and practice of fisheries management. You will discover the many reasons why overfishing happens and what is needed to turn around the state of global fisheries so that seafood can continue to supply the needs of a growing population far into the future.

The module assumes no specific skills or experience, and there are no pre-requisite modules required. It is accessible for non-specialist students, including those on multi-disciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module shows how ecological theory underpins approaches to fisheries exploitation and management and how it interfaces with human behaviour and institutions to determine the outcomes. It will give a broad overview of different fisheries and the way they are managed, offering a clear view of the nature and scope of challenges in delivering greater sustainability against a background of rapid anthropogenic environmental change. It will equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to take on management and monitoring roles in fisheries, such as in Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Associations around the UK. It will also provide you with the understanding and tools necessary to work on fisheries from within environmental NGOs campaigning for reform.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe in detail the wide variety of fisheries and fishing methods in use.
  • 2. Outline the major threats to marine life and ecosystem functioning arising from fishing.
  • 3. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of management methods, and how fisheries management needs to be reformed to improve success, particularly in light of global change.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory.
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work.
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in fisheries management.
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, investigation, and enquiry.
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of the subject with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions.
  • 10. Effectively communicate arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience.
  • 11. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance.
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary.
  • 13. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

Lecture 1: A short history of fishing and fisheries management

The earliest evidence of fishing and seafood. Emergence of commercial fishing in antiquity. The medieval sea fishing revolution. 19th century mechanisation of fisheries and first signs of decline. Late 19th century beginnings of fisheries science. 20th century fishing intensification and growing awareness of the need to manage fisheries. First manifestations of fisheries management theory.

Lecture 2: Trends in world fisheries

FAO, their data collection protocols and assessment reports of global fish stocks. Global and regional trends in landings. Global variation in fisheries production. Production links to oceanography and bathymetry.

Lecture 3: Fishing methods

Finfish and shellfish fisheries. Tropical vs temperate vs polar fisheries. High seas vs coastal fisheries. Shallow vs deep sea fisheries. Demersal vs pelagic. Artisanal vs industrial fisheries. Methods contrasted will include active vs passive gears. Target species behaviour and interaction with fishing gears.

Lecture 4: Management of marine capture fisheries 1 - Population harvesting

Effects of fishing on target fish species. The theory underpinning population harvesting in fisheries. Introduction to the concept of maximum sustainable yield. Effects of fishing on population reproductive output.

Lecture 5: Management of marine capture fisheries 2 - Population variation and fisheries

High levels of population variability in marine fish stocks. Intrinsic and environmental factors influencing population variation. Stock versus recruitment relationships and their variability. Problems caused for fishery managers by population fluctuations.

Lecture 6: Management of marine capture fisheries 3 – Problems with MSY

Management for maximum sustainable yield and problems with this approach. Alternative approaches to managing fisheries. Avoidance of recruitment overfishing.

Lecture 7: Controlling fishing mortality

Limits on fishing gears – e.g. mesh size restrictions, hook size and type, trap design. Limits on fishing effort – e.g. licensing (no. boats, no. fishers, size of boats etc.), days at sea restrictions, seasonal closures. Limits on landings – e.g. size and species restrictions, quota management.

Lecture 8: Fisheries stock assessment

Methods for assessing the size and status of stocks. Fisheries-dependent and fisheries-independent sampling methods. Modelling approaches to estimating population size.

Lecture 9: Fisheries target and reference points

Targets versus reference points explained. Biomass and fishing mortality metrics. Target biomass points – MSY and others. Limit reference points. Trigger reference points. Biomass vs Fishing mortality plots and the classification of fishery status and trends.

Lecture 10: Politics and fisheries regulation

Why fisheries management so often fails. Political interference. Risk-prone decision-making structures. Consensus decision making. Weakness of international law. Why population variability and scientific uncertainty make science easy to ignore. Political responses to fisheries decline – subsidising or promoting shifts to less fished species or places.

Lecture 11: Effects of fishing on marine ecosystems

Effects of fishing on multispecies assemblages. Effects of fishing on marine ecosystems. Impacts on predators. Impacts on biodiversity. Phase shifts in marine ecosystems. Habitat damage by fishing gears. Population decline and extinction risk. Factors affecting vulnerability to overexploitation. Changes in ecosystem functioning due to exploitation and effects on ecosystem goods and services.

Lecture 12: Fisheries economics: profitability, subsidies and slavery

A primer on fisheries economics. Open access equilibrium and fishery profitability. Why is fishing capacity too high? Technological creep. Subsidies – the good, bad and ugly. Bonded labour and modern slavery sustain profitability as stocks decline.

Lecture 13: Climate change impacts on fisheries

Climate change effects relevant to fisheries. Warming - measuring warming from fishery landings. Warming - shifting distributions (latitudinal diversity and productivity shifts). Warming – falling productivity (nutrient depletion). Warming – falling oxygen concentrations (habitat compression, impacts on growth, body size and reproduction). Acidification – developmental problems

Lecture 14: Reform of fisheries management

Fisheries management needs in a fast-changing world. Need for more effective controls on fishing effort. Move from species to ecosystem-based management. Elimination or severe curtailment of most damaging fishing gears; real-time monitoring of fishing mortality; elimination of bycatch discarding; protection of large areas of the sea in permanent and seasonal marine reserves.

In addition to these lectures, there will also be student led seminars on topics including:

Aquaculture; The Marine Stewardship Council; Will fish stocks run out by 2048; Bycatch and by-kill; The role of seafood in human health; Brexit; Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing; Ecosystem-based fisheries management; Forage fish; Fisheries-induced evolution.

The seminars will be delivered over the course of the term and will be given in groups. Each person in the group will receive an individual mark, but members of groups which give an excellent team performance will gain better marks than those which don’t.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching 14Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching 6Seminar presentations and discussion
Guided independent learning 130Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Discussions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay602000 words1-11Written
Seminar presentation4020-minute group seminar and discussion1-11Oral


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay & SeminarEssay of 2000 words1-11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to re-submit an assessment as described in the table above. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • S. Jennings, M. Kaiser and J. Reynolds (2008) Marine Fisheries Ecology. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • C.M. Roberts (2007) The Unnatural History of the Sea. Island Press.

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Lecture specific research papers
  • Research reading recommended as starting points for seminars
  • Research reading around subjects set for course essay.

Key words search

Fisheries management, fishing, overfishing, ecosystem impacts, Maximum Sustainable Yield, population ecology, law of the sea, conservation, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, extinction, ocean conservation, marine conservation, climate change, ecology, oceanography.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date