Sustainable Development Goals

Indicator 14.4.1 - Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels

This indicator measures the sustainability of the world's marine capture fisheries by their abundance. A fish stock of which abundance is at or greater than the level, that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is classified as biologically sustainable. In contrast, when abundance falls below the MSY level, the stock is considered biologically unsustainable. The indicator will measure progress towards SDG Target 14.4.

By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels (1974–2017)


Together with the other indicators under SDG 14, it will form a picture of marine activity giving countries intelligence on optimum levels of fishing, aquaculture expansion and fair and secure access to living aquatic resources.

Key results

Fisheries contribute significantly to global food security, livelihoods and the economy. However, if not managed sustainably, fish stocks can be overfished, impairing ecosystem functions, reducing biodiversity, and negatively affecting social and economic development. To achieve sustainable development of fisheries, fish stocks must be maintained within biologically sustainable limits – at or above the abundance level that can produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

Based on FAO's assessment, the proportion of world marine fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels has declined from 90 percent in 1974 to 65.8 percent in 2017. However, the decreasing trend has slowed down and seems to have stabilized since 2008. Nonetheless, at the global level, no obvious progress has yet been made towards SDG target 14.4, which calls for “restoring overfished stocks at least to levels that can produce MSY”. Developing and implementing effective management plans to rebuild overfished stocks requires strong political will and appropriate policies.

Geographically, there are great variations in the proportion of sustainable fish stocks. In 2017, the Mediterranean and Black Sea continued to have the highest percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels (62.5 percent), followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5 percent) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 percent). By contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific, and Western Central Pacific had the lowest proportion (13–22 percent) of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels.

A combination of improved regulations and infrastructure in intensively managed fisheries has proven successful in recovering certain overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels. However, the adoption of such measures has generally been slow, particularly in many developing countries.

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