Accessibility statement

Maths-based marine management project wins £1.5m funding

Posted on 23 July 2021

An innovative research project which combines multidimensional mathematical models, marine ecology and consumer behaviour to redefine fishing catch limits has been awarded £1.5m funding.

The pyramid approach gives a more accurate picture of the pressures and demands facing the marine environment.

Rather than using the size and quantity of fish as the basis for fish catch quotas, the ‘Pyramids of Life’ framework also considers environmental factors, consumer preferences and economic drivers within the calculations.

Developed by mathematicians including Dr Gustav Delius and Professor Richard Law at the University of York, the pyramid approach gives a more accurate picture of the pressures and demands facing the marine environment. This insight can point the way to a more sustainable harvest, for example by avoiding extinctions or environmental damage caused by over-exploiting a particular species.


Dr Jon Pitchford from the University of York’s Departments of Biology and Mathematics explained: “The problem for the UK’s marine resources is that fisheries management agreements typically use metrics which are based, for a given species, on the number of tonnes landed above a given minimum body size. 

“This approach is limited because it only measures the size of the catch, without considering broader effects on the ecosystem  - and is potentially damaging both for the ecosystem and the sustainability of harvests.

“We have shown that marine management which better respects the multidimensional picture offered by ecological pyramids, and where harvesting fish of particular size and species is proportional to production, can generate sustainable harvests and support conservation of marine ecosystems.”


The project has won funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The funding is part of the Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources (SMMR) programme. 

Coordinated by the York Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of York, the project also involves experts from the University of East Anglia and Cefas (The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science). Industry partners include Seafish, the public body supporting the seafish industry, and Waitrose.

Dr Bryce Stewart, from the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York said: “I’m delighted to be working with such a diverse range of scientists and partners to help address the challenges facing management of marine fisheries. Such an interdisciplinary approach is key to developing sustainable solutions.” 

Commercially viable

The team plan to bring socio-economics, human behaviour and marine ecology into their calculations. Industry partners will contribute expertise in market dynamics and consumer behaviour giving, for the first time, a multidimensional perspective of the value of marine ecosystems. 

“We need to understand the behaviour of consumers, and of fishers, and to identify where change can be commercially viable as well as ecologically sustainable,” said Dr Pitchford.


Further information:

As well as the University of East Anglia, Seafish, Cefas and Waitrose, partners in this project also include the universities of Essex and Roehampton, Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association.

Explore more news

Media enquiries

Alistair Keely
Head of Media Relations

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153