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The sustainable yield of natural capital is the ecological yield that can be extracted without reducing the base of capital itself, i.e. the surplus required to maintain ecosystem services at the same or increasing level over time. This yield usually varies over time with the needs of the ecosystem to maintain itself, e.g. a forest that has recently suffered a blight or flooding or fire will require more of its own ecological yield to sustain and re-establish a mature forest. While doing so, the sustainable yield may be much less.
In forestry terms it is the largest amount of harvest activity that can occur without degrading the productivity of the stock.
This concept is important in fishery management, in which sustainable yield is defined as the number of fish that can be extracted without reducing the base of fish stock, and the maximum sustainable yield is defined as the amount of fish that can be extracted under given environmental conditions. In fisheries, the basic natural capital or virgin population, must decrease with extraction. At the same time productivity increases. Hence, sustainable yield would be within the range in which the natural capital together with its production are able to provide satisfactory yield. It may be very difficult to quantify sustainable yield, because every dynamic ecological conditions and other factors not related to harvesting induce changes and fluctuations in both, the natural capital and its productivity.