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Overfishing is a situation where one or more fish stocks are reduced below predefined levels of acceptance by fishing activities. More precise definitions are provided in biology and bioeconomics. Biological overfishing occurs when fishing mortality has reached a level where the stock biomass has negative marginal growth (slowing down biomass growth). Economic or bioeconomic overfishing in addition to the biological dynamics takes into consideration the cost of fishing and defines overfishing as a situation of negative marginal growth of resource rent. A more dynamic definition may also include a relevant discount rate and present value of flow of resource rent over all future catches.

Overfishing therefore may be sustainable, but in a non preferable way. Ultimately overfishing may however lead to depletion in cases of subsidised fisheries, low biological growth rates, critical biomass levels etc.

Glaring examples exist of the outcomes from overfishing in areas like the North Sea and the East Coast of Canada and the United States. The result has been not only disastrous to fish stocks but also to the fishing communities relying on the harvest.

The ability for nature to restore the fisheries is also dependent on whether the ecosystems are still in a state to allow fish numbers to build again. Dramatic changes in species composition may establish other equilibrium energy flows which involve other species compositions than before.

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