• European fisheries;
  • harvest control rules;
  • maximum sustainable yield;
  • overfishing;
  • precautionary principle


In European fisheries, most stocks are overfished and many are below safe biological limits, resulting in a call from the European Commission for new long-term fisheries management plans. Here, we propose a set of intuitive harvest control rules that are economically sound, compliant with international fishery agreements, based on relevant international experiences, supportive of ecosystem-based fisheries management and compatible with the biology of the fish stocks. The rules are based on the concept of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), with a precautionary target biomass that is 30% larger than that which produces MSY and with annual catches of 91%MSY. Allowable catches decline steeply when stocks fall below MSY levels and are set to zero when stocks fall below half of MSY levels. We show that the proposed rules could have prevented the collapse of the North Sea herring in the 1970s and that they can deal with strong cyclic variations in recruitment such as known for blue whiting. Compared to the current system, these rules would lead to higher long-term catches from larger stocks at lower cost and with less adverse environmental impact.