Users must discover fisheries data in order to use it. Most fishery databases have a public component with Web access to standardized reports. These sites have home pages indexed by the common search engines that allow discovery by the public, made possible by metatags. 24 However, not all fisheries Web sites are currently using metatags. As of June 1999, among the AKFIN, PacFIN, RecFIN, and ACCSP home pages, only RecFIN included metatags in the document source. The use of metatags should be promoted because they are used by many search engines when indexing pages and thus provide an aid to document discovery.
Fishery databases also have a private component, with access restricted to researchers, managers, and others with a need to know (see earlier section on confidentiality). This restriction is related to the inclusion of sensitive business information in the database and in some cases is mandated by state or federal law or both. In general, persons who desire access to restricted fisheries information must sign a non-disclosure agreement and fill out a database access request form that must be approved by a database official.
The NOAA server (http://www.noaa.gov) provides unified access to fishery data sets held by the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center, with discovery through a query of FGDC metadata. The server system is now being redesigned so that access to planning documents will require a password. The existing system allows a user to select a query term, but the terms are very general. There is also a spatial query interface based on either latitude-longitude or a map. This appears to be a secondary access method with only minimal metadata included about NMFS fisheries data sets. It is often necessary to contact the individual listed in the metadata to gain access to the data. Landings information is available from the NOAA Web site for commercial (www.st.nmfs.gov/commercial/index.html) and recreational (www.st.nmfs.gov/recreational/index.html) fisheries.
The committee did not investigate all possible communication links, but it did query the regional fishery management councils about how they obtain the data they need for management decisions and whether they wanted information in a different form or wanted different information.
It is obvious that cooperation in data use is essential for effective management. Different regional councils accomplish cooperation differently. In some cases, councils receive data and information on a regular basis. Most councils rely greatly on members from NMFS, the Coast Guard, states, and other organizations to ensure that the necessary information is transferred to the councils and used in management.
One council expressed the desire to gain access to non-aggregated data and requested a more efficient means of data access than transfer of data disks. Another council noted the need for better ways to “analyze and reduce information so that it may be readily assimilated by council members and the public during the decision process.” The councils believe that greater efforts and resources need to be devoted to improving communication of the reasons why data are collected in specific ways, for example, using outdated trawl gear and random, stratified sampling. It was also suggested that information communication specialists be enlisted to improve communication between councils and stakeholders. Most of the councils have extensive Web sites that include their fishery management plans, other reports, meeting schedules, committee rosters, and other information. These Web sites can be very efficient communication tools, if kept current.
Metatags are information in World Wide Web documents that have a number of functions, including providing keywords and descriptions of the document that are accessed by search engines to categorize Web documents.