The application of genetic techniques to invertebrate fisheries is in many ways essentially similar to that in vertebrate (i.e. finfish) fisheries, for which there is already an extensive body of published data. However, there are also relative differences which lead to particular problems in the use of genetic data to study commercially important invertebrate species. The main role for genetics of both vertebrates and invertebrates has been, and is likely to continue to be, the identification of groups of interbreeding individuals as the basis for a fishery. It is in the identification of the breeding unit that the genetic differences between vertebrates and invertebrates can be of practical significance. The genetic breeding unit, usually called a 'stock' in fisheries biology, generally shows a certain uniformity of size in most marine fish which have been studied. Smaller or less mobile fish (e.g. flatfish) may only range a few tens of kilometres to their breeding grounds, whilst in more mobile, particularly migratory pelagic species (e.g. Scombridae), the area occupied by a stock is likely to be far greater and for a few (e.g. large pelagic elasmobranchs), a single unit of stock may be almost circumglobal. However, marine fish generally, particularly those large or plentiful enough to be of commercial interest, are likely to be fairly mobile and in many cases the order of mobility is likely to be in the region we might predict from our knowledge of the biology and habits of the species. In the genetic assessment of `stocks' for invertebrate fisheries, we face a number of additional problems, mostly related to the large evolutionary range of invertebrates exploited and their widely different biology. Although in Europe and North America marine invertebrate fisheries may be thought of as being mainly for decapod crustaceans and bivalve molluscs, globally commercially important marine invertebrate fisheries range from sponges to squid and include such diverse groups as sea cucumbers, barnacles, krill, octopuses, cuttlefish, sea anemones, ascidians, polychaetes, sea urchins, gastropods and jellyfish. An obvious feature of many of these invertebrates is that the adult (i.e. commercial) stage of the life cycle is sessile (e.g. barnacles, sponges, ascidians) or of very limited mobility (e.g. sea anemones, sea urchins, bivalves, gastropods), with the result that the dispersive phase of the life cycle is the larva. Other groups (e.g. krill, jellyfish) are planktonic or nektonic and may cover very large distances, but, unlike fish, have little control over the distance or direction of travel, whilst some of the open ocean pelagic squid are more mobile than most fish and may migrate thousands or kilometres to spawning grounds. The very low mobility of both larva and adult in some invertebrates indicates that dispersal, and hence stock size, is likely to be low and that, therefore, stocks are far more vulnerable to overfishing than in most fish species. An additional difficulty is that genetic studies to date indicate a remarkably high incidence of cryptic speciation in marine invertebrates, sometimes even in comparatively well studied commercially important species. Thus, although to date marine invertebrate fisheries have not received the same level of attention from geneticist as finfish fisheries, it is clear that for invertebrate fisheries genetic data are relatively far more important if a fishery is to be exploited without being endangered.