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Status Determinations

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that a fishery management plan specify objective and measurable criteria, or reference points, for determining when a stock is subject to overfishing or overfished. A scientific analysis of the abundance and composition of a fish stock (stock assessment) evaluates the stock against its reference points.

Stock assessments use the best information available, which may include data from fishery landings, scientific surveys, and biological and ecological studies. A stock assessment typically undergoes peer review by independent scientists before it is accepted as the best scientific information available.

Generally, NOAA Fisheries uses the stock assessment and the reference points to determine whether the stock is subject to overfishing or overfished. Information from the stock assessment is used by the regional fishery management council to recommend the annual catch limit for the stock.

Important Definitions

Overfishing – The annual rate of catch is too high.

Overfished – The population size is too small.

Approaching an overfished condition – Expected to be overfished within two years.

Rebuilt – A previously overfished stock that has increased in abundance to the target population size that supports its maximum sustainable yield.

NOAA Fisheries’ stock assessments are key to sustainable fisheries management. A number of NOAA Fisheries resources can help you learn more.