EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) employs many fishery scientists with diverse skills. The agency finds that the supply of fishery biologists is adequate to meet most of its demand. However, increasing demands on the agency to understand fish populations and the social and economic conditions in fishing communities have created a need for additional experts in the fields of fisheries stock assessment and social sciences.

NMFS has developed plans for meeting its anticipated staff needs in stock assessment and social sciences and asked the National Research Council (NRC) to convene a workshop to discuss the plans and suggest other actions the agency might take to ensure an adequate supply of experts in these fields. Approximately 30 individuals gathered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on July 17, 2000 under the auspices of the NRC’s Ocean Studies Board to discuss NMFS’ plans. This document summarizes the presentations and discussions at that one-day workshop. No attempt was made to reach consensus among the participants; thus, the suggestions recorded in this summary represent the personal views of workshop participants, as summarized by NRC staff.

Information was presented by NMFS at the workshop about their need to hire additional individuals in stock assessment and social sciences. NMFS proposed several actions to boost recruitment and retention of NMFS employees, including

  • developing targeted recruitment programs and cooperative arrangements with universities,

  • enhancing continuing education opportunities for NMFS employees,

  • increasing recruitment of individuals from related fields,

  • increasing diversity, and

  • building capacity in minority-serving institutions.

A number of bottlenecks, differing by institution, constrain enrollment in graduate schools. At the most basic level, some universities do not receive enough applications from individuals with relevant skills who can meet their entry requirements. In some cases, universities cannot provide financial support at the beginning of a student’s graduate education, even though such support could be forthcoming later when the student possesses greater skills that could be applied to his or her advisor’s research projects. In other universities, both funding and qualified applicants are available, but either the number of faculty or the infrastructural support limit the expansion of fisheries education programs. Foreign students often bring financial support with them and can surmount the other bottlenecks, but are ineligible for employment by NMFS and other federal agencies after graduation until they become permanent residents or U.S. citizens.



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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) employs many fishery scientists with diverse skills. The agency finds that the supply of fishery biologists is adequate to meet most of its demand. However, increasing demands on the agency to understand fish populations and the social and economic conditions in fishing communities have created a need for additional experts in the fields of fisheries stock assessment and social sciences. NMFS has developed plans for meeting its anticipated staff needs in stock assessment and social sciences and asked the National Research Council (NRC) to convene a workshop to discuss the plans and suggest other actions the agency might take to ensure an adequate supply of experts in these fields. Approximately 30 individuals gathered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on July 17, 2000 under the auspices of the NRC’s Ocean Studies Board to discuss NMFS’ plans. This document summarizes the presentations and discussions at that one-day workshop. No attempt was made to reach consensus among the participants; thus, the suggestions recorded in this summary represent the personal views of workshop participants, as summarized by NRC staff. Information was presented by NMFS at the workshop about their need to hire additional individuals in stock assessment and social sciences. NMFS proposed several actions to boost recruitment and retention of NMFS employees, including developing targeted recruitment programs and cooperative arrangements with universities, enhancing continuing education opportunities for NMFS employees, increasing recruitment of individuals from related fields, increasing diversity, and building capacity in minority-serving institutions. A number of bottlenecks, differing by institution, constrain enrollment in graduate schools. At the most basic level, some universities do not receive enough applications from individuals with relevant skills who can meet their entry requirements. In some cases, universities cannot provide financial support at the beginning of a student’s graduate education, even though such support could be forthcoming later when the student possesses greater skills that could be applied to his or her advisor’s research projects. In other universities, both funding and qualified applicants are available, but either the number of faculty or the infrastructural support limit the expansion of fisheries education programs. Foreign students often bring financial support with them and can surmount the other bottlenecks, but are ineligible for employment by NMFS and other federal agencies after graduation until they become permanent residents or U.S. citizens.

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The supply and demand situation differs for stock assessment and social scientists. For stock assessment scientists, NMFS is the primary employer and demand is already large relative to the total supply. NMFS’ anticipated expansion in this area exceeds the present capacity of university programs. On the other hand, NMFS is a minor employer of social scientists; thus, even relatively large changes in NMFS hiring decisions would add only a few slots and have a relatively small effect on the overall pool of social scientists available. NMFS’ anticipated expansion in this area could probably be accommodated with little difficulty. A caveat, however, is that relatively few social scientists focus on fisheries and thus would require some persuasion to enter the field and time to learn the nuances of fishery issues. Some suggestions for reducing the total demand for qualified scientists (including those at the Ph.D., Master’s, and Bachelor’s levels) may include (1) decreasing the regulatory requirements for fisheries, (2) managing more cautiously (e.g., setting lower total allowable catches) so that less information and analyses are needed, (3) developing and implementing management methods that require less stock assessment and social science advice, or (4) increasing technological capabilities for performing analyses without increasing staff levels. Another way to reduce the demand for stock assessment and social scientists within NMFS—and possibly total demand—would be to contract out a greater percentage of stock assessment and social science analyses to universities or private consultants. However, most of the workshop discussions focused on ways to increase the supply of stock assessment and social scientists in the event that NMFS receives funding for its plans. Workshop participants considered both traditional and more innovative approaches. Traditional approaches included increasing the availability of graduate and post-doctoral fellowships, funding faculty positions in universities, sponsoring programs to reach undergraduates, placing NMFS employees in academic institutions, and disseminating information about career and employment opportunities more broadly. NMFS already is using many of these approaches and has made progress in targeted graduate fellowships for stock assessment science and fisheries economics, and in offering NRC and other post-doctoral fellowships to bring new individuals into NMFS laboratories. Many participants felt that NMFS could make additional progress using these traditional approaches. As suggested by some participants, the most obvious approach to attract more stock assessment and social scientists to NMFS would be to offer higher salaries for individuals with these specialties. This is a particular need for stock assessment scientists because their quantitative skills enable them to find work in other, more lucrative, professions. If salaries cannot be increased to competitive levels, non-monetary incentives could be offered to make up for the salary differences. Examples include travel to professional meetings, support for individual career development, funding and release time to conduct research, and exposure to national-level policy and projects. Some of the shortfall in qualified employees can be met by hiring individuals from related fields with similar skills, but these individuals often require additional training to acquaint them with problems specific to marine fisheries. As an alternative, intensive retraining of qualified staff might help reduce the current shortfall.

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Other less obvious, but potentially productive, approaches to meeting NMFS staffing needs could include working through scientific societies to find individuals in the academic or consulting communities who could fulfill NMFS’ analysis needs, employing foreign scientists as guest researchers, nurturing applied mathematical ecology and population dynamics programs in universities, and sponsoring programs to reach high school students in an effort to influence their college careers.