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Fish Life History: An Important Role in Fisheries Management

March 18, 2021

Understanding fish life histories is key to sustainably managing fisheries. Learn how scientists determine a fish’s life history profile and how we can support healthy fish populations.

In this video, learn how we study a fish's life history. Fish life histories—or how a fish forages, ages, grows, and reproduces throughout its life—can help us understand what it takes to preserve fish populations for future generations. We can use life history information to make practical regulations for fisheries that people like to harvest for food. Keen fishermen often make note of these life history characteristics and adjust their activities to fish responsibly (for example, not taking certain species during their prime spawning season and releasing undersized fish). Ideally, this life history information that informs management decisions should be sourced from locally caught fish.

Some regulations that are based on fish life history information include:

Minimum catch sizes, which makes sure that fish have grown large enough to reproduce before being harvested. A fish’s size when it reaches maturity also varies among species and can vary between locations (O‘ahu vs. Hawai‘i Island, for instance) for the same species.

Closed seasons around a fish’s primary breeding period, which free fish from the danger of harvesting during a critical time in their life cycle. Some fish species spawn year round, but many species often have a window during the year when spawning activity is higher.  

Bag limits, which help keep populations healthy by limiting the maximum number of a certain species that can be harvested in a given day.

Video creation and editing funded in part by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program logo with a white coral silhouette in a blue circle.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on 09/25/2023