Step 7: Reference Points

There is no point in measuring the performance of a fishery with performance indicators if we can’t tell what the results of our measurements mean: is this level of the performance indicator that we find good or bad for the fishery? Does it help or hinder us in achieving fishery management goals? 

To give the performance indicators meaning, we need targets and limits for each one.  These are often called Reference Points (RPs).  For some types of species and some PIs, there are commonly used RPs that are generally associated with sustainable fishing or a healthy stock. For other PIs or species types, stakeholders may have to determine their own RPs that are appropriate for their own goals and species life history characteristics. 

Targets and limits should be adjusted according to risk tolerance and uncertainty.  If uncertainty is high, for example because only one or two years of data are available, targets and limits should be more conservative to reduce the risk of overfishing. 

For additional guidance on how to set reference points, see


RP Examples

Here are some examples (the specific levels will depend on the species you are managing):

Performance Indicators Target RP Limit RP
Fishing Mortality (F) 75% of natural mortality (M) 125% of M
Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) 40% 20%
% Mature 90% 75%
Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) Within 10% of 5 year average Below 50% of 5 year average
MPA Density Ratio 0.6 0.3

For step-by-step guidance on identifying the appropriate RPs for your fishery, see the Guidance document for choosing PIs, identifying RPs, and defining HCRs in the downloadable workbook, and linked on this page.