Recommendations: Congress should recognize the need for both a scientific assessment and evaluation process, and a thorough and objective review system. The committee acknowledges that NMFS has taken great effort to provide the means for establishing the scientific integrity of its work, but the committee also recognizes that it is too much to ask NMFS to objectively evaluate that same work. A greater degree of independence in the peer-review process is needed in order to maintain the integrity and scientific credibility of the NMFS assessments. To do this, the scientific products, such as the assessments produced by NMFS and others, should be peer reviewed by scientists who are not directly involved in the assessments or work directly for NMFS (scientists from state fishery agencies could be involved). Because of the limited number of stock assessment scientists outside NMFS and the large number of assessments produced each year, not every assessment should be reviewed each year, but every assessment should be externally reviewed on a regular basis, for example, every three to five years. The SSC could be considered the appropriate independent body for this review, if the SSC is made up of informed but otherwise independent scientists, but time is often a limiting factor for these volunteers in their deliberations leading to council advice. The committee therefore suggests that regional councils consider supporting a stock assessment scientist on staff. Such a scientist could be assigned the task of organizing assessment peer reviews while highlighting issues of scientific and managerial concern under the direction of the SSC and the council executive director. In this way, NMFS could present and defend their work in a public forum and the councils would be able to review this work in an objective fashion. Another vehicle that could be used for such independent reviews is the Center for Independent Experts that is funded by NMFS but which operates independently from NMFS.
Finding: Stock assessment science and fisheries management are still developing fields. Improvements in each are still needed and will be fueled by continued research and development.
Recommendations: Congress should support and NMFS should continue to fund research to improve our ability to characterize fish stocks quantitatively and manage them in the context of the important but sometimes conflicting goals of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its National Standards. NMFS should fund both internal and external research (biological, economic, and social) relating to:
developing methods for evaluating ecological benefits of fish stocks and fisheries;
developing new methods for stock assessment;
minimizing data fouling and misreporting;
testing adaptive sampling for surveys, including both NMFS and industry data collection;
testing electronic logbooks and VMSs that offer value-added features to fishermen;
linking environmental, economic, and social data, and climate forecasts to stock assessments;
studying the feeding habits and the distribution and types of prey and predators of important non-commercial species, to understand the functioning of the marine ecosystems affected by fishing activities;
understanding the economic and social motivations of harvesters so that greater use can be made of fishery-dependent data;
improving design of recreational fishing surveys; and
conducting stock assessments combining recreational and commercial data with very different error and uncertainty structures.
Emphasis should be given to research exploring the relationships between different types of regulatory approaches and fishermen's attitudes and behaviors toward fish harvest and data reporting. Research should also identify the most important incentives and disincentives that could be used to promote accurate reporting.