The four general components of an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) are reviewed. In taking account of environment forcing in stock dynamics, arguments are presented that effects of environmental forcing on growth, maturation and natural mortality are often more important to management than effects on recruitment. In holding fisheries accountable for the ecosystem effects of fishing, it is argued that direct effects of fishing are generally known and can be managed. However, interactions among fisheries and between fisheries and other sectors pose difficult challenges to equitable decisions in managing these impacts, and many traditional incentives function differently in EAF than in target-stock management. Achieving inclusiveness in decision-making and stewardship is also made more complex in EAF, because of the much larger number of interests with a legitimate role in decision-making. As a result, integrated management (IM) becomes a necessary component of EAF, although EAF and IM are not interchangeable concepts. The treatment of all four components of an EAF considers the need for a balanced and stable outcome on all three dimensions of sustainability – ecological, economic and social. It also highlights that different participant groups in governance display different risk tolerances for misses (not taking conservation action when needed) and false alarms (restraining access to social or economic benefits when little ecological benefit results). These differences in tolerances for different kinds of management errors often complicate decision-making an EAF setting and raise transaction costs greatly.