Cephalopods are a relatively small class of molluscs (similar to 800 species), but they support some large industrial scale fisheries and numerous small-scale, local, artisanal fisheries. For several decades, landings of cephalopods globally have grown against a background of total finfish landings levelling off and then declining. There is now evidence that in recent years, growth in cephalopod landings has declined. The commercially exploited cephalopod species are fast-growing, short-lived ecological opportunists. Annual variability in abundance is strongly influenced by environmental variability, but the underlying causes of the links between environment and population dynamics are poorly understood. Stock assessment models have recently been developed that incorporate environmental processes that drive variability in recruitment, distribution and migration patterns. These models can be expected to improve as more, and better, data are obtained on environmental effects and as techniques for stock identification improve. A key element of future progress will be improved understanding of trophic dynamics at all phases in the cephalopod life cycle. In the meantime, there is no routine stock assessment in many targeted fisheries or in the numerous by-catch fisheries for cephalopods. There is a particular need for a precautionary approach in these cases. Assessment in many fisheries is complicated because cephalopods are ecological opportunists and stocks appear to have benefited from the reduction of key predator by overexploitation. Because of the complexities involved, ecosystem-based fisheries management integrating social, economic and ecological considerations is desirable for cephalopod fisheries. An ecological approach to management is routine in many fisheries, but to be effective, good scientific understanding of the relationships between the environment, trophic dynamics and population dynamics is essential. Fisheries and the ecosystems they depend on can only be managed by regulating the activities of the fishing industry, and this requires understanding the dynamics of the stocks they exploit.