Fisheries development is the process towards achieving the full potential of the sector through growth and improvement. A fishery is being 'developed' if the biomass of the stock is being reduced by fishing, rebuilt (after depletion), or enhanced, to increase its productivity. It is also developed if the quality of the catch or its value improves, not necessarily increasing the harvest.
As defined in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, development has bio-ecological, technological, economic and social (including ethical) dimensions. The main goal of an ecologically sustainable development is to improve the well-being of all the people engaged directly or indirectly in the fisheries sector as well as the natural productive system. Under an ecosystem approach to fisheries, 'development' may be achieved by reducing the negative environmental impact and/or increasing resilience of the system to unexpected change, meeting broader societal objectives.
As the full potential of wild fisheries resources has been achieved – and often 'lost' through overfishing – the main objective and emphasis in capture fisheries development strategies has changed from increasing harvest (the main objective for three quarters of the last century) to establishing a more sustainable and optimal use of the available fisheries resources (particularly since UNCED in 1992). The same path has been followed by aquaculture where development from the 1950s to the 1990s emphasized technology development, intensification, and larger harvests . Concern for environmental management and sustainability appeared essentially during the 1990s.
Harmonizing development and management objectives and plans is a precondition to improve the implementation of both. Limiting growth (e.g. in fishing capacity) and promoting cross sectoral compatibility, taking a precautionary and ecosystem approach, represent key requirements for both capture fisheries and aquaculture.