Fisheries management is the practice of analyzing and selecting options to maintain or alter the structure, dynamics and interaction of habitat, aquatic biota, and man to achieve human goals and objectives. However defined, management goals and objectives are essential components of fisheries management or any other field of renewable natural resource management. Reaching consensus on management goals and objectives is not, nor has it ever been, a simple task. Beyond the broad and often conflicting goals of an agency, managers must decide on who should set specific management objectives--agency personnel, the public, or a combination of the two. Historically, rhetoric aside, fisheries managers in North America nearly always have used consultation between professionals in governmental roles to set management objectives. In a strongly pluralistic society that has not proved effective and has resulted in protracted political and legal conflict. Increasingly, there are calls for use of risk assessment to help solve such ecological policy and management problems commonly encountered in fisheries management. The basic concepts of ecological risk assessment may be simple, but the jargon and details are not. Risk assessment (and similar analytical tools) is a concept that has evoked strong reactions whenever it has been used. In spite of the difficulties of defining problems and setting management objectives for complex ecological policy questions, use of risk assessment to help solve ecological problems is widely supported. Ecological risk assessment will be most useful in politial deliberations when the policy debate revolves around largely technical concerns. To the extent that risk assessment forces policy debate and disagreement toward fundamental differences rather than superficial ones, it will be useful in decision making. Otherwise, it is merely the latest in a long procession of anlaytical tools, each of which as a role, albeit limited, in fishery management.