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The assessment and management of small pelagic fish (SPF) stocks is particularly difficult and uncertain because their short life expectancy, characteristic aggregative behavior, rapid response to climate and environmental signals and large and variable natural mortality make them less tractable through traditional population dynamic models and assumptions. In this review we summarize the assessment and management approaches applied in 29 SPF stocks or management units (12 anchovy, 10 sardine, 4 herring, and 3 sprat). The review demonstrates that the assessment and management of SPF varies substantially in its approach and performance between stocks and regions. Most stocks have a scientific assessment program in place and a management approach that generally takes into account assessment results, but in some stocks management practices deviate substantially from scientific advice and in some, assessment and management processes are largely disconnected. It is concluded that only properly tailored scientific assessment and management programs can provide the speed of response and the flexibility of management that highly variable SPF demand. The most effective monitoring programs are based on fishery-independent surveys (daily egg production or/and hydroacoustics), while analyses based on catch per unit effort offer limited value. Most assessments, defined as what management uses to base its decisions on, rely on catch-at-age or yield per recruit models. Harvest strategies range from those driven by harvest control rules to those derived from outputs of best assessment runs. Some stocks use operating models based on age–structure model outputs or forward VPA. On the issue of scientific uncertainty some practitioners propose reducing it through additional science and measures, while others promote the development of management procedures robust to uncertainty.
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