tant as the most recent reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act added new requirements for identification of essential fish habitat.

The committee drew on input from its public meetings, published documents, and its own analyses and discussions to develop a series of findings and recommendations that (1) analyze the 1999 summer flounder stock assessment and provide advice to NMFS about ways to improve these assessments (see Appendix D) and (2) identify more general data issues needing attention. Many of the recommendations related to the summer flounder assessments should be applied more broadly in other U.S. fisheries; relevant examples will be provided later in this chapter. Improvements in the credibility of NMFS data collection and stock assessment procedures could be achieved if the following recommendations were implemented. Some of the major issues that emerged during the committee's work were the timing of data availability to managers and fishermen and the waste of the great potential of commercial and recreational fishermen as data collection partners.

Delay in the availability of data was a major theme of the committee 's discussions. In particular, fishery-dependent data, especially commercial and recreational landings data, must be available on time scales that match needed management actions. The degree of timeliness needed varies depending on the type of data and the management system used. For example, for management based on total allowable catch, total catch data and data on discards in other fisheries should be available soon enough to allow closing a season early. Presently, most commercial data meet this criterion, but recreational catch data generally are not available on this time scale. Management with closed areas is best accomplished with real-time information about vessel location. The expansion of the recreational share of many fisheries has exacerbated the data timeliness problem because data collection systems for recreational fisheries are not designed to make data available in a usable form quickly, so that in-season1 management of most recreational fisheries is presently not possible.

State and federal budget limitations will probably always constrain fishery-independent surveys. The portion of the NMFS budget for research and data collection has been diminished in recent years from budget cuts and “earmarks,” without positive adjustments to base budget that would offset personnel costs and other costs increased by inflation. Commercial and recreational fishermen are a large potential source of data about the fish stocks they exploit. The committee believes, therefore, that it is imperative for NMFS and the councils to improve the quality of data available from commercial and recreational fisheries.

NMFS finds it difficult to use certain forms of commercial data, especially measures of fishing effort and CPUE, because of valid concerns about the data's usefulness; the committee believes these concerns could be better addressed through constructive engagement with the commercial sector. Improvements in data quality will occur only if NMFS and industry work cooperatively to create more effective and efficient data collection and management systems and create an environment that fosters the availability of accurate, precise data with adequate protection of privacy and confidentiality. Other stakeholders, such as environmental advocates and ceremonial and subsistence users should also participate in data collection and management so that their knowledge and interests are considered. Responsibility for the current failure to use certain kinds of fishery-dependent data (e.g., commercial catch rates and logbook data such as the landings by species and locations of catch) for stock assessments can be ascribed to both NMFS and the industry, and both need to make good-faith efforts to work together to improve data availability, thereby fostering improvements in management and sustained fisheries yields.

1  

In-season management refers to changes in the season length based on a sector's actual catch in relation to the total allowable catch allotted to that sector.



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