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Ellen K. Pikitch  

Ellen K. Pikitch
Professor and Executive Director
Institute for Ocean Conservation Science

Ph.D., 1983, Indiana University


Ocean conservation, fisheries management, ecosystem-based approaches, endangered fishes, sharks, sturgeon

Institute for Ocean Conservation Science website

Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force website

Research Interests

My research focuses on fish conservation and fisheries sustainability, with emphases on ecosystem-based fishery management and endangered fishes. My contributions to advancing ocean conservation range from basic science innovations to achieving domestic and international policy change.

Ecosystem-based fishery management is a holistic approach that emphasizes the integrity of marine ecosystems and the interconnectedness of species and habitats. I spearheaded the first scientific consensus on ecosystem-based fishery management, which was published in the journal Science in 2004. More recently, I chaired the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, an international team of 13 preeminent scientists whose mission was to develop consensus recommendations for forage fish management that recognized the critical role these species play in marine ecosystems. The task force conducted the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date, and successfully achieved its charge, releasing its report in April 2012. In less than a year’s time, the report, “Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs,” began influencing policy decisions, both nationally and internationally, about forage fish management, including California’s ecosystem-based forage fishery policy adopted in November 2012.

I also focus research efforts on vulnerable and ecologically important marine animals, particularly sharks and sturgeons. Shark populations have declined dramatically due to destructive commercial fishing practices fueled largely by demand for their fins. A paper I co-authored, "Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets" Ecology Letters, 2006, estimated that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed globally each year. These widely cited statistics have served to energize and propel the shark conservation movement. In 2008, the first book to focus on pelagic sharks and their plight, Sharks of the Open Ocean, which I co-edited, was published. This comprehensive compendium of the biology, conservation, and management of pelagic sharks and their unprecedented levels of exploitation furthered awareness of the threatened status of these sharks worldwide. I have helped pioneer sophisticated DNA-based forensics techniques and monitoring systems that enable shark species to be identified from a small piece of tissue, usually from a fin. Enforcement agents are now using these tools to detect and prosecute illegal sales of shark fins.

On a policy level, my work also has contributed to better conservation of sharks, including passage of the U.S. Shark Finning Prohibition Act, finning bans implemented by several individual states, and regulation of the international trade in great white sharks under the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species.

Another extensively exploited fish on which I focus research efforts is the sturgeon. Most species of sturgeon in the United States and overseas are threatened with extinction due to relentless pursuit of their eggs, which are prized for caviar. Contributing scientific information on the status of these fish and associated trends has catalyzed conservation action. Research results of studies I have conducted have informed policy decisions such as the listings of both the Atlantic and beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and a U.S. ban on the sale of beluga caviar.

My most recent project is the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program (ShiRP), of which I am co-principal investigator. ShiRP was founded in response to deteriorating environmental conditions in Shinnecock Bay, Long Island, caused primarily by overfishing and pollution. Our goal is to improve the ecological integrity of the bay by restoring shellfish and seagrass beds, which will result in increased population levels of fish and other wildlife, as well as a healthier environment. Our restoration work is informed by complementary scientific studies, and outreach and partnerships are important aspects of the restoration plan.

I have led several major oceanic field expeditions and served on many high-level scientific panels, including President Clinton’s Panel on Ocean Exploration, the Task Force on Environmental Sustainability commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and several committees of the National Academy of Sciences. Currently I am serving on the Ecological Society of America’s rapid response team, on the Seafood Watch Science Advisory Board, and as a Director of Shark Savers.

For more information about my research and the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, please visit:


(For additional publications, please visit my Google Scholar citations page.)

Pikitch, E.K. (2012). The Risks of Overfishing. Science. 338: 474-475.

Pikitch, E.K. (2012). Little Fish in a Big Pond. Scientist, 26(11): 24.

Pikitch E.K., Rountos, K.J., Essington, T.E., Santora, C., Pauly, D., Watson, R., Sumaila, U.R., Boersma, P.D., Boyd, I.L., Conover, D.O., Cury, P., Heppell, S.S., Houde, E.D., Mangel, M., Plagány, É., Sainsbury, K., Steneck, R.S., Geers, T.M., Gownaris, N., Munch, S.B. 2012. The global contribution of forage fish to marine fisheries and ecosystems. Fish and Fisheries. doi: 10.1111/faf.12004.

Pikitch, E.K. (2012) Cutback of small fish catches will yield big gains. Environment Industry Magazine, 21: 63-65.

Doukakis, P., Pikitch, E.K., Rothschild, D., Rob, A., Amato, G., Kolokotronis, S. 2012. Testing the effectiveness of an international conservation agreement: marketplace forensics and CITES caviar trade regulation. PLoS ONE 7(7), e40907.

Pikitch, E.K., Boersma, P.D., Boyd, I.L., Conover, D.O., Cury, P., Essington, T. E., Heppell, S.S., Houde, E.D., Mangel, M., Pauly, D., Plagányi, É., Sainsbury, K., Steneck, R.S. 2012. Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs. Lenfest Ocean Program. Washington, DC. 108 pp.

Bond, M.E., Babcock, E.A., Pikitch, E.K., Abercrombie, D.L., Lamb, N.F., Chapman, D.D. 2012. Reef sharks exhibit site-fidelity and higher relative abundance in marine reserves on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. PLoS ONE 7(3): e32983, doi:10.1371.

Estes, J.A., Terborgh, J., Brashares, J.S., Power, M.E., Berger J., Bond, W.J., Carpenter, S.R., Essington, T., Holt, R.D., Jackson, J.B.C., Marquis, R.J., Oksanen, L., Oksanen, T., Paine, R.T., Pikitch, E.K., Ripple, W.J., Sandin, S.A., Scheffer, M., Schoener, T.W., Shurin, J.B., Sinclair, A.R.E., Soulé, M.E., Virtanen, R., Wardle, D.A. 2011. Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. Science. 333: 301-306.

Erickson, D.L., A. Kahnle, M. J. Millard, E.A. Mora, G. Bryja, A. Higgs, J. Mohler, M. DuFour, G. Kenney, J. Sweka, and E.K. Pikitch. 2011. Use of pop-off satellite archival tags to identify oceanic-migratory patterns for adult Atlantic Sturgeon, Ascipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus Mitchell, 1815. Journal of Applied Ichthyology. 27: 356-365.

Doukakis, P., Babcock, E.A., Pikitch, E.K., Sharov, A.R., Baimukhanov, M., Erbulekov, S., Bokova, Y., Nimatov, A. 2010. Management and Recovery Options for Ural River Beluga Sturgeon. Conservation Biology. 24: 769-777.

Chapman, D., Babcock, E.A., Gruber, S.H. , DiBattista, J.D., Franks, B.R., Kessel, S.A., Guttridge, T., Pikitch, E.K., Feldheim, K.A.. 2009. Long-term natal site-fidelity by immature lemon sharks. Molecular Ecology. 18: 3500–3507.

Camhi, M. D., E. K. Pikitch and E. A. Babcock, editors. 2008. Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK. 536 p.

McAllister, M. K., Pikitch, E. K. and E.A. Babcock. 2008. Why are Bayesian methods useful for the stock assessment of sharks? Pages 351-368 in M. D. Camhi, E.K. Pikitch and E.A. Babcock, editors. Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Pikitch, E. K., M. D. Camhi and E. A. Babcock. 2008. Introduction to Sharks of the Open Ocean. Pages 3-13 in M. D. Camhi, E. K. Pikitch and E. A. Babcock, editors. Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Skomal, G., E. A. Babcock and E. K. Pikitch. 2008. Blue and mako shark catch rates in U.S. Atlantic recreational fisheries as potential indices of abundance. Pages 205-212 in M. D. Camhi, E. K. Pikitch and E. A. Babcock, editors. Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Pikitch, E.K., Santora, C. and E. A. Babcock. 2008. New frameworks for reconciling conservation with fisheries: incorporating uncertainty and ecosystem processes into fisheries management. Pages 1177-1187 in J. L. Nielsen, J.J. Dodson, K. Friedland, T. R. Hamon, J. Musick, and E. Verspoor, editors. Reconciling Fisheries and Conservation: Proceedings of the Fourth World Fisheries Congress. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 49, Bethesda, Maryland.

Babcock, E. A., M. K. McAllister, and E. K. Pikitch. 2007. Comparison of harvest control policies for rebuilding overfished populations within a fixed rebuilding time frame. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 27:1326-1342

Chapman, D. D., E. K. Pikitch, E. A. Babcock and M. S. Shivji. 2007. Deep-diving and diel changes in vertical habitat use by Caribbean reef sharks, Carcharhinus perezi. Marine Ecology Progress Series 344: 271–275.

Erickson, D., K. Kappenman, M. Webb, N. Ryabinin, A. Shmigirilov, B. Belyaev, G. Novomodny, A. Mednikova, E. Pikitch and P. Doukakis. 2007. Sturgeon conservation in the Russian Far East and China. Endangered Species Bulletin XXXII: 28-32.

Magnussen, J. E, Pikitch, E. K., Clarke, S. C., Nicholson, C., Hoelzel, A. R. and M. S. Shivji. 2007. Genetic tracking of basking shark products in international trade. Animal Conservation 10 (2):199–207.

Clarke, S., McAllister, M. K., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Kirkwood, G. P., Michielsens, C. G. J., Agnew, D. J., Pikitch, E. K., Nakano, H. and M. S. Shivji. 2006. Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets. Ecology Letters 9:1115–1126.

Chapman, D. D., Pikitch, E. K., and E. A. Babcock. 2006. Marine parks need sharks? Science 312: 527.

Babcock, E.A., Pikitch, E.K., McAllister, M.K., Apostolaki P. and C. Santora. 2005. A perspective on the use of spatialized indicators for ecosystem-based fishery management through spatial zoning. ICES Journal of Marine Science 62:469-476.

Chapman, D. D., Pikitch, E. K., Babcock, E. A. and M.S. Shivji. 2005. Marine reserve design and evaluation using automated acoustic telemetry: a case study involving coral reef-associated sharks in the Mesoamerican Caribbean. Marine Technology Society Journal 39 (1):42-55.

Pikitch, E.K. 2006. The gathering wave of ocean extinctions. Pages 195- 201 in State of the Wild, Volume 1. Island Press.

Pikitch, E. K., Chapman, D. D., Babcock, E. A. and M. S. Shivji. 2005. Habitat use and demographic population structure of elasmobranchs at a Caribbean oceanic atoll (Glover’s Reef, Belize). Marine Ecology Progress Series. 302:187-197. Pikitch E.K., Doukakis P., Lauck L., Chakrabarty P. and D.L. Erickson. 2005. Status, trends and management of sturgeon and paddlefish fisheries. Fish and Fisheries. 6:233–265.

Shivji, M. S., Chapman, D. D., Pikitch, E. K. and P. W. Raymond. 2005. Genetic profiling reveals illegal international trade in fins of the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Conservation Genetics 6:1035-1039.

Babcock, E.A. and E.K. Pikitch. 2004. Can we reach agreement on a standardized approach to ecosystem-based fishery management? Bulletin of Marine Science 74:685-692.

Doukakis, P., Pikitch, E. K., Alpeisov, S. A., Baimukhanov, M., Sissengaliyeva, G., Melnikov, V., Yerbulekov, S. and S. Crownover. 2004. Caspian caviar and conservation: Kazakhstan’s Ural River beluga. Caucasus Environment 6(1):21-23.

Pikitch, E. K., Doukakis, P. and C. Santora. 2004. Caspian sturgeons and captive caviar production: understanding conservation benefits. Fish Farmer 27(3):31-33.

Pikitch, E. K., Santora, C., Babcock, E. A., Bakun, A., Bonfil, R., Conover, D. O., Dayton, P., Doukakis, P., Fluharty, D., Heneman, B., Houde, E. D., Link, J., Livingston, P., Mangel, M., McAllister, M. K., Pope, J. and K. J. Sainsbury. 2004. Ecosystem-based fishery management. Science 305:346-347.

Pikitch, E. K., Santora, C., Babcock, E. A., Bakun, A., Bonfil, R., Conover, D. O., Dayton, P., Doukakis, P., Fluharty, D., Heneman, B., Houde, E. D., Link, J., Livingston, P., Mangel, M., McAllister, M. K., Pope, J., and K. J. Sainsbury. 2004. Fishery Management and Culling. Science 396:1892.

Chapman, D. D., Abercrombie, D.L., Douady, C.J., Pikitch, E.K., Stanhope, M.J. and M.S. Shivji. 2003. A streamlined, bi-organelle, multiplex PCR approach to species identification: application to global conservation and trade monitoring of the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Conservation Genetics 4:415-425.

McAllister, M.K., Pikitch, E.K. and E.A. Babcock. 2001. Using demographic methods to construct Bayesian priors for the intrinsic rate of increase in the Schaefer model and implications for stock rebuilding. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 58:1871–1890.

Babcock, E.A. and E.K. Pikitch. 2000. A dynamic programming model of fishing strategy choice in a multispecies trawl fishery with trip limits. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 57:357-370.

Pikitch, E. K., Huppert, D. D. and M. P. Sissenwine. 1997. Global Trends: Fisheries Management. American Fisheries Society Symposium 20. Bethesda, Maryland. 328 p.


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