Nature provides us with many valuable services, including the use of wildlife for food, clothing, building materials and other provisioning services. Yet the use of biodiversity at rates greater than those that can be replenished – namely by over-exploitation – is a major direct driver of biodiversity loss.  This is especially so in the marine environment where the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment considered that the most important driver of biodiversity loss has been over-exploitation by fishing.  Such over-exploitation does not always result from targeted use of a resource but may also arise from unintentional by-catch of non-target organisms and from the deliberate killing of species perceived as pests or competitors with human interests.
schooling fish © Oktaviani Marvikasari

To ensure species’ populations remain healthy in the future and remain able to provide the services upon which we depend, it is important that any exploitation takes place in a sustainable and responsible manner. This may mean adapting harvests to take account of population fluctuations, providing protected areas or refugia from harvests, seeking means to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, developing mechanisms to avoid bycatch, or, for some species, preventing their exploitation all together.


JNCC invests in surveillance to assess the state of UK biodiversity in response to pressures such as over-exploitation, upon which, along with other available evidence, our advice to government is based.



Charting Progress (2005), an integrated assessment of the state of the UK’s seas, reports that “widespread commercial fishing practices threaten many fish stocks by over-exploitation and damage sea floor areas". The report notes that most fish stocks or the fishing pressure exerted upon them is outside of safe biological limits. In addition, the survival of some marine mammal populations is threatened due to unintentional bycatch.


JNCC provide advice on fisheries and have been involved in objective setting work through the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and OSPAR.


Terrestrial and Freshwater

A recent review by JNCC concluded that the impact of direct exploitation in the terrestrial and freshwater environments in the UK is currently low and localised in scale.


Legislation has been successful in reducing the pressure of over exploitation in the UK. For example, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 lists plant and animal species that are protected. JNCC provide recommendations on the species to be covered in this legislation through bringing together advice from the country conservation agencies during Quinquennial Reviews. We also maintain a collation of species conservation designations on our website, available to download as a spreadsheet .



Over-exploitation is addressed through a number of Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements. The Convention on Biological Diversity agreed a set of guidelines – the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity – at their 7th Conference of the Parties.  The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) provides a mechanism to protect migratory species and to encourage cooperation in their management between range states.  The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) provides a mechanism to regulate international trade in species listed on its appendices. A fundamental premise of CITES is that trade should only be permitted if it is not detrimental to the survival of the species. JNCC contributes to such assessments of sustainability in our role as UK CITES Scientific Authority (animals).