Fishing is an old activity, and concern about its effects also is old. As early as the fourteenth century, people in England were worried about fishing with a wondyrchaum (a fine-meshed trawl), which they feared was killing enormous numbers of small fish (March 1970). By 1716, minimum mesh sizes and minimum size limits for various fish species were in effect. Many forms of fishery management have evolved based on traditional knowledge gained by fishing peoples. They included cultural practices, community agreements, and government controls. But in general, and despite early regulations, management of marine fisheries was minimal before the middle of the twentieth century, with a few notable exceptions such as the International Pacific Halibut Commission (Bell 1978).
Although there has long been concern over the effects of fishing, that concern—like fishing itself—was largely confined to coastal waters until recently. The famous scientist Thomas Huxley expressed his opinion in 1883 that probably "all the great sea-fisheries are inexhaustible" (Smith 1994), although some great sea-fisheries were already depleted by then. The Atlantic halibut fishery had collapsed by the early 1880s (Goode and Collins 1887) and has not yet recovered. And the U.S. Fish Commission had been established a dozen years earlier (1871) to find the causes of declining New England fisheries.
By 1919, W.F. Thompson (1919) recognized that sea fisheries were not inexhaustible, but he identified a difficulty that remains critical to this day: "Proof that seeks to modify the ways of commerce or of sport must be overwhelming." He developed research to concentrate on what "is necessary to the perpetuation and prosperity of the fishery." To protect the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) from the fate of the Atlantic halibut, the International (United States and Canada) Pacific Halibut Commission was established in 1924 with "a competent man as director of investigations": W.F. Thompson (Babcock et al. 1928). While and before Thompson was investigating the North Pacific halibut fishery, Heincke was developing catch-curve analyses as a basis for proposed minimum size limits for North Sea plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) and demonstrating racial differences in North Sea herring (Smith 1994). The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas was formed in 1902, motivated by the desire to understand and predict fluctuations in fish stocks (Smith 1994).
North Sea fish increased in size and numbers during both World Wars I and II, because naval action forced a reduction in fishing. That phenomenon led to wider recognition that fishing did affect fish stocks and that the effects were at least partly reversible. Those observations led Graham (1935, 1943) to explain how increases in fishing power allowed catches to be maintained or increased even when fish stocks declined, leading to a waste of time and