Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Albrecht Daniel Thaer-Institut für Agrar- und Gartenbauwissenschaften

Rethinking length-based fisheries regulations: the value of protecting old and large fish with harvest slot

Managing fisheries using length-based harvest regulations is common, but such policies often create trade-offs among conservation (e.g. maintaining natural agestructure or spawning stock biomass) and fishery objectives (e.g. maximizing yield or harvest numbers). By focusing harvest on the larger (older) fish, minimumlength limits are thought to maximize biomass yield, but at the potential cost of severe age and size truncation at high fishing mortality. Harvest-slot-length limits (harvest slots) restrict harvest to intermediate lengths (ages), which may contribute to maintaining high harvest numbers and a more natural age-structure. However, an evaluation of minimum-length limits vs. harvest slots for jointly meeting fisheries and conservation objectives across a range of fish life-history strategies is currently lacking. We present a general age- and size-structured population model calibrated to several recreationally important fish species. Harvest slots and minimum-length limits were both effective at compromising between yield, numbers harvested and catch of trophy fish while conserving reproductive biomass. However, harvest slots consistently produced greater numbers of fish harvested and greater catches of trophy fish while conserving reproductive biomass and a more natural population age-structure. Additionally, harvest slots resulted in less waste in the presence of hooking mortality. Our results held across a range of exploitation rates, life-history strategies and fisheries objectives. Overall, we found harvest slots to represent a valuable option to meet both conservation and recreational fisheries objectives. Given the ubiquitous benefits of harvest slots across all life histories modelled, rethinking the widespread use of minimum-length limits is warranted.