1. Teleost fish excrete precipitated carbonate and make significant contributions to the marine inorganic carbon cycle at regional and global scales. As total carbonate production is linked to fish size and abundance, fishing is predicted to affect carbonate production by modifying fish abundance and size-structure.
2. We draw on concepts from physiology, metabolic ecology, life history theory, population dynamics and community ecology to develop, validate and apply analytical tools to assess fishing impacts on carbonate production. Outputs suggest that population and community carbonate production fall rapidly at lower rates of fishing than those used as management targets for sustainable yield.
3. Theoretical predictions are corroborated by estimated trends in carbonate production by a herring population and a coral reef fish community subject to fishing. Our analytical results build on widely applicable relationships between life history parameters and metabolic rates, and can be generalized to most fished ecosystems.
4. Synthesis and applications. If the maintenance of chemical processes as well as biological process were adopted as a management objective for fisheries then the methods we have developed can be applied to assess the effects of fishing on carbonate production and to advise on acceptable rates of fishing. Maintenance of this ecosystem service would require lower rates of fishing mortality than those recommended to achieve sustainable yield.