5
Adequacy of the Use of Science in Fishery Management

IDENTIFICATION AND EXPECTATIONS OF SCIENCE AND INFORMATION NEEDS

The changing mission of NMFS reflects to some degree the changing values of the nation (Heinz Center, 1999). This mission reflects the balance of both harvest and protection of marine fisheries that the nation expects for these renewable resources. This mission expands the tasks that NMFS must undertake. The 1996 revisions to the MSFCMA added three new National Standards to the Act and two of these, 8 and 9, along with the strengthened prohibition on overfishing and duty to rebuild stocks, add major analytical tasks to NMFS’s already full plate. These new tasks include the acquisition and analysis of socioeconomic (National Standard 8) and bycatch data (National Standard 9) and their inclusion into the decision-making process (See Appendix C for a list of the National Standards). Unless NMFS is given the support it needs to achieve its mission and the agency continues to evolve scientifically, the nation’s expectations may begin to outpace the agency’s capability to provide the scientific research and guidance needed to carry out its mission. Some might see the recent trend of increased litigation as a reflection that there is a mismatch of expectation and capabilities to some extent already. In identifying its future workforce needs, NMFS needs to continue to develop its capacity to do good science by recruiting and training science personnel (NRC, 2000b). NMFS has a workforce of about 2,670, of whom 1,130 are technical experts (NRC, 2000b). NMFS expects that 30 percent of its workforce will retire in the next five years and that perhaps 20 percent



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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service 5 Adequacy of the Use of Science in Fishery Management IDENTIFICATION AND EXPECTATIONS OF SCIENCE AND INFORMATION NEEDS The changing mission of NMFS reflects to some degree the changing values of the nation (Heinz Center, 1999). This mission reflects the balance of both harvest and protection of marine fisheries that the nation expects for these renewable resources. This mission expands the tasks that NMFS must undertake. The 1996 revisions to the MSFCMA added three new National Standards to the Act and two of these, 8 and 9, along with the strengthened prohibition on overfishing and duty to rebuild stocks, add major analytical tasks to NMFS’s already full plate. These new tasks include the acquisition and analysis of socioeconomic (National Standard 8) and bycatch data (National Standard 9) and their inclusion into the decision-making process (See Appendix C for a list of the National Standards). Unless NMFS is given the support it needs to achieve its mission and the agency continues to evolve scientifically, the nation’s expectations may begin to outpace the agency’s capability to provide the scientific research and guidance needed to carry out its mission. Some might see the recent trend of increased litigation as a reflection that there is a mismatch of expectation and capabilities to some extent already. In identifying its future workforce needs, NMFS needs to continue to develop its capacity to do good science by recruiting and training science personnel (NRC, 2000b). NMFS has a workforce of about 2,670, of whom 1,130 are technical experts (NRC, 2000b). NMFS expects that 30 percent of its workforce will retire in the next five years and that perhaps 20 percent

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service more will take early retirement. Fisheries science demands broad training and a high degree of quantitative competence. NMFS must compete for qualified people with other enterprises, such as engineering, computer, biomedical, computer software and information, and environmental sciences that can often provide higher salaries. NMFS is addressing the expected shortfall of quantitative scientists through the establishment of the NMFS-Sea Grant Joint Graduate Fellowship Program in Population Dynamics and Marine Resource Economics. Despite the good intentions that motivated the development of that program, there are only five fellowships in population dynamics and three in marine resource economics, with a potential for only six fellows in each discipline at any specific time. Because these are multiyear fellowships, they will result in fewer than a dozen fellows ready to enter the workforce each year—woefully inadequate when balanced against the projected retirement of 500 fisheries scientists within the next 10 years and the need for an additional 358 stock assessment and data collection personnel needed to upgrade stock assessments to a nationally acceptable level (NRC, 2000b). Some of this work will be done by new hires, especially socio-economic studies and analyses. However, not all new tasks require additional NMFS staff. NMFS can contract some of its work to private industry and academia (NRC, 2000b). NMFS has successfully used this approach in data acquisition for the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey (MRFSS). For example, access-intercepts and telephone surveys of recreational anglers are done by contract employees working for private industry and this has been both cost-effective and expedient. Partly, though the success of this contract approach lies in the cadre of specially-trained scientists at NMFS who analyze these data and oversee their integration with stock assessments. NMFS scientists are sufficiently familiar with these studies and from a daily oversight basis, they are able to assess the subtleties in these data. Wholesale contracting of NMFS work is inappropriate without sufficiently trained scientists within NMFS to maintain daily oversight and who then use the resulting data in a meaningful way. Outsourcing without sufficient scientific involvement by agency personnel would degrade the quality of NMFS science. Moreover, some of these new tasks such as the inclusion of ecosystem approaches to stock assessment require collaboration among experts from diverse disciplines. Proximity is important and much is gained through day-to-day contact and discussion between scientists. Finally, if the scientists are NMFS employees, they are more likely to share a common mission.

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service Identifying and anticipating science and information needs for an expanding mission may be more difficult. The ESA gives the responsibility and authority for the protection and recovery of most endangered and threatened marine species to NMFS. The scientific requirements for monitoring and maintaining threatened or endangered species are different from those for supporting recreational or commercial fisheries for exploited species in terms of the questions posed, the thresholds of concern, and the actions needed to satisfy objectives. For exploited species, monitoring often occurs in tandem with resource use (fishing), thresholds can be identified with a reasonable margin of error (typically well above extinction thresholds), and sustainability is sought through adjustments in total effort expended or through a specified TAC. For endangered species, independent monitoring must take place, thresholds are just above extinction, and protection is the management objective. However, similarities in the science do exist. Both require information about the population response to changes typically brought about by human intervention, both seek to limit conditions that affect mortality while promoting conditions that induce optimal productivity. But the differences in the nature of the science required between endangered species and exploited species create challenges for NMFS. The MSFCMA directs NMFS (through the Secretary of Commerce) to describe and identify essential fish habitat (EFH) and to take actions to conserve and enhance such habitat. That requires NMFS to move in a different direction from the past, both scientifically and managerially. There is increasing recognition of and interest in the critical role that habitat, and marine ecosystems in general, plays in sustaining marine populations (NRC, 1996a; 1999b; 2001). However, the task given to NMFS through the MSFCMA has major repercussions that have not yet been fully realized. Forced by the act to identify EFH for the species for which they have responsibility, the councils initially identified almost the entire area in their jurisdictions as EFH, following NMFS’s precautionary guidance on how to proceed when data are scarce. Although that may have been an appropriate initial estimate, it creates an enormous need for scientific information and analysis and greatly adds to NMFS’s administrative challenges. The scientific community is only beginning to work through the definitions and methods necessary to develop the applications to identify and protect EFH. Yet NMFS must still manage fish stocks using the concept without a clear definition of what constitutes EFH. In addition to the challenges of managing fisheries, conserving habitat,

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service developing ecosystem plans, and protecting endangered species, NMFS must translate the biological and ecological results of FMPs and council decisions into economic and social dimensions. Several laws and policies— including the MSFCMA, the RFA, the NEPA, and Executive Order 12866—require social and economic analysis of the effects of regulatory decisions. NMFS has become the fourth most prolific generator of federal regulations (Kammer, 2000). As noted in Sharing the Fish: Toward a National Policy on Individual Fishing Quotas (NRC, 1999a), the federal government has extensive public-trust responsibility for fisheries. THE ROLE OF SCIENCE IN DECISION-MAKING Even in situations in which the quality of NMFS science is high, the interpretation and application of science may be limited by factors that influence objectivity, and the transparency and timing of the process by which it is transmitted. Some of those limitations result from the relative scarcity of independent, qualified people available to conduct peer review. Other limitations arise because information and advice may become commingled and value-laden. Limitations also arise in obtaining sufficient information to balance short-term versus long-term payoffs appropriately. Each of the limitations, although information-based, develops as a consequence of the structural organization of the scientist-decision-maker interface. NMFS provides the personnel for developing and evaluating stock assessments, but the councils and their advisory groups also provide expertise. Council advisory committees—in which NMFS scientists, council staff, and independent scientists (such as council scientific and statistical committees) participate—provide analysis, review, advice, and judgment as to the adequacy of stock assessments. In some instances, scientists independent of those entities are called on to provide additional analyses, review, advice, and commentary. A variety of approaches exist for developing and transmitting information, and numerous alternatives have been explored regionally by NMFS and the councils. However, there is still a need to determine who bears responsibility for the information so that objectivity is maintained and the conduit for information remains transparent for the good of both the science and the management process. NMFS has begun to recognize some aspects of the problem. The agency’s creation of the Center for Independent Experts (CIE) has added some objectivity and independence to the peer review of NMFS’ stock

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service assessment work. However, in some parts of the process, peer reviewers participate in completing the stock assessment and thus end up sharing with NMFS scientists the responsibility for creating the final product. A byproduct of that situation is that the participants can lose some of their objectivity in providing review advice. The structure is probably intended to inject broader scientific consensus into the production of the assessment and to shield NMFS stock assessment scientists from the political process. However, the net effect is that no person or group is fully responsible for the final product. That is unfortunate because NMFS stock assessment scientists are fully capable of providing high-quality assessments on their own. It is important to review this work and to allow it to progress without the inappropriate influence of politics, but the current process can reduce the objectivity and transparency of the process. This, in turn, influences confidence in the information and obscures the communication needed to improve the process. Increasing the pool of qualified people available to work on those problems obviously would help; however, a clarification of roles is needed. Specifically, at the NMFS-council organizational level, a clearer identification of responsibility and authority for providing information, conducting analyses, and making management decisions is required. The transmission of scientific information can be limited by the nature of the information and the real or perceived motivations of those developing it. Do regional council members see reports by NMFS as information or as advice? Can, or should, NMFS and the various advisory groups warn councils when particular mandates of the MSFCMA are not being met? Can information and advice be differentiated? Part of the answer lies in maintaining a sharp distinction between descriptions of what is and what ought to be. The former is science-based, and the latter is a value judgment about a person’s preference among outcomes, although science certainly may be used to explore those outcomes. Moreover, opinions about the value of an outcome should be kept separate from the science used to develop preferences and to explore the outcome. The focus for analysts should be on what is or what will be if particular events occur. That allows analysts to defend their science as the “best available.” It also encourages managers to interpret the results objectively and compare them with the statutory and FMP benchmarks or reference points. The timeliness and availability of information also play important roles. The usual procedure in the NMFS-council decision-making process requires NMFS to provide scientific information in the form of a measure of

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service current fishing pressure compared with associated benchmarks, referred to as biological reference points, which indicate critical population and fishing mortality thresholds. NMFS often provides trajectories of likely responses of the population and associated harvest under a variety of fishery management scenarios, including a “status quo” scenario. The council then uses that information to make a decision, typically in the form of an FMP, which will guide the fishing pressure to a point that is optimal for the fishery. In this scenario, NMFS provides the science; the council makes the plan; NMFS approves the implements the FMP. The development and analysis of scenarios based on the science are time-consuming and involve a high level of interaction between those developing them and those analyzing them. The decisions that need to be made are difficult, and the availability of information is not always timely. Even when the necessary information is available, it may not be welcome. A lack of understanding by some council members of the scientific information and advice they are provided may result in an unwillingness to trust it. NMFS and council staff must deal with challenges to the science and the exploration of management scenarios based on the science, but because time is limited, councils may not be able to consider the available information with enough background to ask the right questions. To facilitate the decision-making process, NMFS may try to anticipate the scenarios that should be explored, given the results of their scientific analysis. Shifts in the ability to provide information and advice lead to shifts in authority and responsibility for decision-making and a resulting loss of control. Uncertainty is often identified as a major cause of a lack of reasonable decision-making, but the cause is often the loss of control. For example, the Gulf of Maine cod stock is heavily fished. Current fishing mortality is estimated at around F = 0.7 per year. That is, roughly 50 percent of the standing stock is harvested directly or caught and killed incidentally in other fisheries each year. There is some dispute about what optimal fishing mortality should be but little doubt that it should be reduced from the present F = 0.7 per year (50% annual mortality). NMFS’s assessments indicate that a fishing mortality of about F = 0.2 may be appropriate, but a peer review of this work found that a higher mortality, perhaps F = 0.3, might be more realistic. This mortality is in the range of 20 to 25% annual mortality. Is there too much uncertainty to use that information? The council would prefer to have perfect information because it must make some difficult decisions about reducing the harvest, controlling the bycatch, and even closing the fishery. When the uncertainty is represented

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service by a range of optimal fishing mortality levels, such as F = 0.2 or F = 0.3, staying with the status quo fishing mortality level of F = 0.7 is unacceptable. In other words, it is imperative to act when target exploitation levels range from 20 to 25 percent and the actual exploitation level is 50 percent. The mere presence of uncertainty does not invalidate scientific advice. Instead, the dimensions and implications of uncertainty should be explored so that they can be incorporated into the decision-making process. The council could ask NMFS, the council staff, or the council advisory committees to develop some predictive simulations to show what would happen to the stock and to harvesting under alternative management scenarios. What would happen if the directed harvest or incidental catch were reduced by 50 percent? Additional questions could be asked: What are the economic consequences of reducing directed harvest versus reducing incidental catch? What sector of the industry is most likely to be affected? The council has the ability to ask the right questions if it has the correct information. NMFS has the ability to explore the options quantitatively from which it could make solid, informed projections and recommendations. The stalemate results because the information is perceived to be dangerous, and NMFS, not the council, possesses the information. Even though there is uncertainty about the choice of which fishing mortality is optimal, there is no scientific justification for a default decision that allows the current fishing mortality to continue (that is, the uncertainty is between fishing mortality of F = 0.2 and F = 0.3, not F = 0.7). When the advice is to increase fishing, managers seem quite willing to accept scientific opinion and are capable of implementing action. When the advice is to restrict fishing, managers seem reluctant to accept, or even act on, the best available science. That was seen in December 2001 with the failure of the New England FMC to reach consensus on an adjustment in management measures for Gulf of Maine cod. The important question seems to be why it is so difficult to restrict fishing even when there is sound evidence that not doing so will have adverse long-term consequences. The answer is complex and revolves largely around the issue of balancing the payoffs of a management decision.1 Fun 1   The terms costs and benefits will be avoided here because they may be somewhat confusing (for example, negative costs are the same as benefits, and negative benefits are the same as costs) so the term payoffs will be used. Also, biological, ecological, economic, and social payoffs, although they exist, are not distinguished here.

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service damentally, there are important differences between current and future payoffs that strongly influence how decisions are made. Future payoffs are subject to the following factors: Future payoffs are discounted. The following example illustrates the importance of discounting. The table gives the net present value of gaining $1 per year for 5 years and for 20 years at discount rates of 7, 10, and 15 percent. Net Present Value of $1 per Year   Time     5 years 20 years Discount rate 7% 4.10 10.59 10% 3.79 8.51 15% 3.35 6.26 The rate required (Circular A-32) by the Office of Management and Budget for government projects is 7 percent and typically a person would have a higher rate. (Considerations of intergenerational fairness and equity would suggest a discount rate lower than 7 percent.) Even at the low government rate, about 40 percent (4.10/10.59) of the net present value of a 20-year annuity accrues in the first 5 years. At higher rates, about 50 percent of the value accrues in the first 5 years. In broad terms, if a person can maintain an income stream for only 5 years, that is half as good as maintaining the income stream for 20 years. Stated in another way, if one can delay reductions in fishing for 5 years, that is almost as good as delaying them for 20 years. Strictly speaking, this example applies only to monetary values, but similar rationales apply to non-monetary payoffs as well. As economic and social stresses increase, individual discount rates tend to rise, leading to ever-greater emphasis on short-term results. Future payoffs are uncertain, and uncertainty is endemic in fisheries management. There are many unknown factors, such as the current state of the stock, the transition from one management regime to another, and the values of important exogenous variables. Therefore, one can never know exactly how many fish will comprise a specific stock tomorrow. Even given

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service perfect knowledge of the state of a fish stock today, its status would be uncertain tomorrow. The farther into the future one seeks to forecast, the greater the uncertainty. If allocations can vary over time, individuals or groups may expect future costs to be shifted to someone else. That depends on how politically adept various groups are at influencing the management system, and not everyone can win with this strategy. Nonetheless, because costs can be shifted, even if there is a negative outcome in the future, people may believe that they can avoid the consequences of their decisions in the present. Expectations about the future are formed from experience, and participants frequently underestimate deviations from their experience. If all one has ever experienced is a healthy, productive fishery, one tends not to believe forecasts of calamity. When degradation in a fishery has been extremely slow, the current situation may not look so bad to someone who has participated in a fishery for only 5 or 10 years. Comparing the fishery with where it was 20 or 50 years ago may provide a different perspective, but many current participants have not had that experience. Larger short-term benefits may be desired to match short-term costs (for example, of vessel mortgages and licenses) to maintain adequate cash flows. Current payoffs are subject to none of the above influences. They are not discounted, they are not uncertain, and they usually affect well-defined groups. When the scientific advice is to restrict catches today to avoid depleting the resource tomorrow, it is frequently ignored. Any adverse results are in the future, so they have less impact than the very clear adverse results that will accrue today. The arguments for ignoring the future are familiar: adverse results might not happen, adverse results have not happened yet, and if an adverse outcome does happen, maybe someone else will incur the cost. Moreover, everyone evaluates the complex biological, ecological, economic, and social outcome of a fishery in different ways. What may seem a terrible result from one viewpoint may not seem bad from another. One may seek to bring more science into the decision-making process by doing the following:

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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service Carefully specify management goals. Biological, economic, and social goals are important. Quantify goals, and collect data designed to measure progress toward them. Conduct research to increase understanding of the natural system and to determine the influence of management actions on goals. Monitor past management actions, and consider adaptive approaches to future management actions. Recognize that the world is uncertain, that our knowledge is imperfect, and that rectifying mistakes may take a long time. Adopt a cautious approach to fisheries management. A cautious approach should apply to actions that may lead to biological, ecological, social, and economic effects. Deliberately seek management alternatives that minimize the total costs of achieving management goals. Remember that total costs include biological, ecological, economic, and social dimensions, and that the distribution of total costs over time and among stakeholders is important. Carefully specifying management goals will minimize the disagreement among decision-makers that leads to conflicting emphasis on different aspects of outcomes. Quantifying goals will place the focus on measuring outcomes, providing objective measures to assess decision-makers’ performance, and guiding analysts in evaluating alternatives. Monitoring past actions will reduce ignorance about the fisheries system and thereby reduce uncertainty associated with the future. Focusing on total costs of an action encourages both exploring and developing least-cost alternatives and reveals the extent of “cost-shifting” that is contained in some proposals.