Overfishing under regulation:

The importance of the precautionary principle, the ecosystem approach, and adaptive management in explaining fisheries management failures.

NOTE by the author: This book was published in hard copy in 2010. Unfortunately it was published in A5 format - I did not intend that the original A4 format be reduced (this was a mistake by the publisher). The hard copy version of the book is almost unreadable due to the small print. I recommend downloading the book as a PDF in the original A4 format, using the link below. 


Nevill, Jonathan (2010) Overfishing under regulation: the application of the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach in Australian fisheries management; VDM Verlag Dr. Muller, Saarbrucken. 403 pages, ISBN 978-3-639-33954-3, paperback


This book explores the idea that poor fisheries management - and the economic and ecological damage which follows - are largely the result of management failures to implement important strategies to account for uncertainty. The two most important of these strategies are the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach. After investigating the implementation of these strategies in Australian fisheries case studies, Dr Nevill concludes that implementation is at best incompetent, and at worst dishonest. However, the case study of the southern ocean krill fishery, managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), provides an important exception. Other case studies include the Western Rock Lobster fishery, the Northern Prawn fishery, the Orange Roughy fishery, and South Australia's abalone fishery.

The study finds strong rhetoric amongst Australian fisheries agencies supporting application of the precautionary and ecosystem approaches. However, in the case studies examined, there is little evidence for enthusiasm (on the part of managers) for actually applying the approaches in a thoughtful or comprehensive way. Examples are discussed showing that agencies have published false and misleading information apparently to create an impression that these  approaches are being effectively implemented. The author speculates as to the reasons behind this behaviour, suggesting that the explanation lies in cultures within fisheries agencies which condone incompetence and foster dishonest reporting.

The central conclusion of the book is that steps must be taken to bring about radical change in the cultures which operate within fisheries agencies. This could be achieved, Dr Nevill argues, by replacing fisheries management agencies with agencies charged with managing marine biodiversity assets.


“Why does overfishing persist in the face of regulation?” This question, the subject of intense interest and discussion, has no easy or palatable answer. While trawling over old ground, this thesis offers new insights, and adds weight to important arguments advanced by other writers. I argue here that overfishing, a fundamental cause of the crisis facing our oceans, is the result of the failure of our fisheries management agencies (ultimately our politicians and communities) to embrace a small suite of powerful tools (more correctly strategic approaches) which have been developed to account for uncertainty.

Broad success in managing fisheries to achieve sustainability goals will (I argue) only come if these tools are enthusiastically applied. Moreover, I suggest that this will not happen until organisational cultures within fishery management agencies undergo a major shift.  In my view, the only way this shift will occur is for asset-based biodiversity conservation, rather than resource exploitation, to be placed at the centre of ocean governance.

This book examines these issues in the context of case studies covering regional, national and provincial (State) fishery management agencies. With the exception of the case study of a regional fishery (the southern ocean krill fishery) all case studies are drawn from Australian experiences. Commercial and recreational fisheries are considered.

The central recommendation of the book is that fishery management agencies, worldwide, should be replaced by biodiversity asset management agencies. While recognising that many factors affect biodiversity assets (some well outside the control of current fishery agencies) such a strategy would mesh with the increasing acceptance of integrated coastal zone management, and in general the need for integrated and precautionary management of natural resources.


ocean governance, ethics, overfishing, uncertainty, precautionary principle, precautionary approach, ecosystem approach, ecosystem based fisheries management, adaptive management, krill, orange roughy, northern prawns, western rock lobster, abalone.

When the thesis on which the book is based was under preparation, each chapter was reviewed by fisheries scientists and marine biologists. The completed work was examined by two former-CSIRO fisheries scientists. One examiner remarked: "This is an important and courageous work, and should be widely read by fisheries scientists and managers".

As mentioned above, the problem with the hard copy book is that it reduced the original A4 format to A5, making the font very small, almost unreadable.

The book in A4 format can be downloaded at no cost from: http://www.onlyoneplanet.com/marineOverfishingUnderRegulation_6mmOffset_withCitation.pdf

Summary paper based on Chapter 18
Implementation failures in Australian marine policy.
This paper summaries several of the key issues raised by the thesis/book.

Contents page of the thesis.   Entire thesis: as a PDF, or as a DOC file