Working for sustainable fishing

We are working for healthy and well-managed fisheries, and for fishing practices that do not harm marine habitats and other marine species.
WWF’s Global Marine Programme works with legitimate, proactive players in the fishing industry who are interested in safeguarding healthy, sustainable marine ecosystems that provide a future for their livelihoods.

Bringing conservation into fisheries management
The basis for our fisheries work is ecosystem-based management (EBM) - which aims to achieve sustainable exploitation of natural resources by balancing the social and economic needs of human communities with the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Using the EBM framework, we are engaging with the fishing industry to:

  1. Improve fisheries management

  2. Reduce the impacts of fishing

  3. Promote sustainably caught seafood
Mackerel caught according to the environmental and social standards of the Marine Stewardship ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER
Mackerel caught according to the environmental and social standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), UK.
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER

What's the problem?

Unsustainable fishing is decimating the world's fisheries. It's also destroying marine habitats and killing billions of marine animals each year.

As a result, the future of the fishing industry is under threat - as well as endangered marine species and habitats, and the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. Find out more...

Ecosystem-based management and marine fisheries

EBM is central to all of WWF's conservation work. The overall aim of implementing EBM in marine capture fisheries is to find new, innovative forms of management that conserve fish populations, don’t harm other marine species, protect the structure and function of marine ecosystems, and support sustainable fisheries and the fishers that depend on them. 

WWF was the first conservation organization to produce an international holistic framework for ecosystem-based management of marine capture fisheries. This framework has been referenced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as valid guidance for fisheries alongside the FAO's own, slightly different, ecosystem-approach to fisheries management.

Two central themes
The science-based EBM framework has two main themes: the effect of the environment on the resource, and conversely, the effect of resource exploitation on the environment.

Improving the resource...
Implementing EBM in fisheries management therefore requires taking careful account of which ecosystem conditions may affect fish stocks and their productivity.

This may lead to the creation of no-take zones or other types of Marine Protected Areas around, for example, fish spawning, breeding, or feeding grounds. Protection of these key habitats helps depleted fish populations to recover, and ensures the long-term sustainability and productivity of a fishery.

...and its environment
Implementing EBM into fisheries management also requires taking equally careful account of the ways that fishing activities may affect marine ecosystems.

In order to maintain a healthy ecosystem, and hence a healthy fishery, in many instances fish catches may need to be reduced to allow the target species to continue to play its natural role in functioning ecosystems. In addition, fishing gear that eliminates or minimizes the incidental take of non-target species (bycatch) and damage to marine habitats may need to be implemented.

Erring on the side of caution
Marine ecosystems are very complex, our knowledge of them is limited, and the ways in which our activities affect them is poorly understood. The EBM approach to managing fisheries recognizes that decisions will often be made in a climate of uncertainty. However, uncertainty should never be an excuse for inaction. Management decisions are best made using multiple lines of evidence, including convincing anecdotal evidence, and a precautionary approach: "when in doubt, err on the side of conservation".

Taking people into account
One key aspect of EBM is that it recognizes the economic, social, and cultural interest of all stakeholders in a fishery and how these interests affect resource management. By managing human issues and impacts, the EBM approach to fisheries is more likely to succeed where many other initiatives have failed - leading to healthy, sustainable fisheries and restored marine ecosystems.

Further information:

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