Biological reference points are important tools for fisheries management. Reference points are not static, but may change when a population's environment or the population itself changes. Fisheries-induced evolution is one mechanism that can alter population characteristics, leading to “shifting” reference points by modifying the underlying biological processes or by changing the perception of a fishery system. The former causes changes in “true” reference points, whereas the latter is caused by changes in the yardsticks used to quantify a system's status. Unaccounted shifts of either kind imply that reference points gradually lose their intended meaning. This can lead to increased precaution, which is safe, but potentially costly. Shifts can also occur in more perilous directions, such that actual risks are greater than anticipated. Our qualitative analysis suggests that all commonly used reference points are susceptible to shifting through fisheries-induced evolution, including the limit and “precautionary” reference points for spawning-stock biomass, Blim and Bpa, and the target reference point for fishing mortality, F0.1. Our findings call for increased awareness of fisheries-induced changes and highlight the value of always basing reference points on adequately updated information, to capture all changes in the biological processes that drive fish population dynamics.
Ices Journal of Marine Science, 2013, Vol 70, Issue 4, p. 707-721