Environmental Management

, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp 377–384 | Cite as

When is overfishing underfishing?

  • Stephen Cunningham
  • David Whitmarsh


The term “overfishing” is being used with increasing frequency to designate an undesirable level of fisheries exploitation. All too often, however, the term is taken as being self-evident. This article demonstrates that many definitions of overfishing are possible, depending essentially on what objective is being pursued for the fishery. Various possible biological and economic objectives are considered, both in a static and dynamic model of the fishery. Consideration is given to the best utilization of the fish stock from the viewpoint of the individual fishermen as well as that of society. It is shown that overfishing by one definition may be underfishing by another, and it is concluded therefore that anyone using the term overfishing ought, as a matter of course, to define it.

Key words

Overfishing Fisheries management Maximum sustainable yield Maximum economic yield Optimum sustainable yield Dynamic economic yield Catch per unit effort 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Cunningham
    • 1
  • David Whitmarsh
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Resources Research Unit, Department of EconomicsPortsmouth PolytechnicMiltonEngland

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