Reproductive hyperallometry and managing the world’s fisheries

Authors: Dustin J Marshall, Michael Bode, Marc Mangel, Robert Arlinghaus, and EJ Dick

Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


We find that a ubiquitous assumption in fisheries models for predicting population replenishment introduces systematic overestimates of replenishment in fished populations.

For 32 of the world’s major fisheries, these biases result in harvest thresholds being set too high: in most cases, reference points based on spawning potential ratios are more than 2.5 times higher than those necessary to achieve the desired level of replenishment.

When we use the more biologically appropriate assumption of reproductive hyperallometry, we find that management tools such as spatiotemporal closures and harvest slots can outperform traditional approaches in terms of yield.

Failing to consider reproductive hyperallometry overestimates the efficacy of traditional fisheries management and underestimates the benefits of approaches that create reservoirs of larger individuals.


Marine fisheries are an essential component of global food security, but many are close to their limits and some are overfished. The models that guide the management of these fisheries almost always assume reproduction is proportional to mass (isometry), when fecundity generally increases disproportionately to mass (hyperallometry).

Judged against several management reference points, we show that assuming isometry overestimates the replenishment potential of exploited fish stocks by 22% (range: 2% to 78%) for 32 of the world’s largest fisheries, risking systematic overharvesting.

We calculate that target catches based on assumptions of isometry are more than double those based on assumptions of hyperallometry for most species, such that common reference points are set twice as high as they should be to maintain the target level of replenishment.

We also show that hyperallometric reproduction provides opportunities for increasing the efficacy of tools that are underused in standard fisheries management, such as protected areas or harvest slot limits. Adopting management strategies that conserve large, hyperfecund fish may, in some instances, result in higher yields relative to traditional approaches.

We recommend that future assessment of reference points and quotas include reproductive hyperallometry unless there is clear evidence that it does not occur in that species.

Marshall DJ, Bode M, Mangel M, Arlinghaus R, Dick EJ (2021) Reproductive hyperallometry and managing the world’s fisheries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America DOI