Multicentury trends and the sustainability of coral reef fisheries in Hawai'i and Florida

Loren Mcclenachan, John N. Kittinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Global overfishing indicates a need to define fisheries sustainability thresholds and identify social factors promoting successful management, but rates of fishing and factors mediating sustainability over long timescales are largely unknown. Here, we reconstruct fisheries yield for the entire period of human habitation (five to seven centuries) for two coral reef ecosystems with substantially different fisheries histories (Florida Keys and the Hawaiian Islands) and evaluate the management strategies associated with periods of sustainable fishing. This involved a mixed methods approach, in which we estimated yield by fishery sector (commercial, subsistence, recreational and aquaculture) and characterized management strategies associated with periods of sustained high yields. We found differences between the two locations, with Hawai'i sustaining yields of more than 12mtkm-2 for four centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans. This period was characterized by adaptive management whose design and enforcement exhibited characteristics of common property resource governance systems, and which effectively protected reef habitat, vulnerable life-history stages for fish, and species with high susceptibilities to overfishing. Reefs in both Florida and Hawai'i were exploited intensively after European contact, with sequential export-driven depletion evident in Florida over the past century. Today, both exhibit strikingly similar modern catch levels, with landings exceeding 10mtkm-2 and evidence of overfishing. Our results demonstrate that management strategies and social institutions that support strict enforcement by a local rule-making authority have had substantial impacts on fisheries yields in the past and suggest that long-term sustainability of fisheries is possible, although rare today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-255
Number of pages17
JournalFish and Fisheries
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Catch reconstruction
  • Common pool resources
  • Historical ecology
  • Institutions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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