ery commissions, treaty organizations, and states to implement fisheries management based on “best scientific information available” (required by National Standard 2 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act). Commercial and recreational fishermen participate to varying degrees in different fisheries by helping NMFS collect data. Participants in fisheries management often refer to fishery-independent data (collected by a resource agency, independent from fishing activities and using scientific sampling methods) and fishery-dependent data (measures of directed commercial and recreational fishing activity).


This study reflects NMFS' desire to have the National Research Council assess methods for improving data for stock assessments and fisheries management, and a more specific interest by Congress to have the summer flounder stock assessments reviewed. The two objectives formed the two parts of this study.

Congress requested a one-time study of summer flounder stock assessments by the National Academy of Sciences as part of a conference report that accompanied the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, and the Judiciary and Related Appropriations Act of 1998 (PL 105-119). The following statement of task was developed to make the committee 's work more useful nationally and to address the issue of data quality, which the NRC (1998a) identified as a major factor in the performance of stock assessment models:

This study will evaluate the use of data in fish stock assessments and fishery management, including a variety of issues that range from those specific to summer flounder to more generic topics of data use for assessments of marine fish stocks. These issues will include methods of commercial data collection; accuracy and precision of fishery-independent surveys; institutional arrangements for data collection, analysis, and sharing among state and federal agencies; and appropriateness of data quality control procedures.

The congressional request to review the summer flounder assessments resulted from industry concern that NMFS had underestimated summer flounder stock size. Such a review also serves as an example of how fisheries data are used to provide assessment advice in general, how the quality of the data may affect the advice, and how public perceptions of data and assessments can affect their acceptance. Thus, the report first reviews the 1996 and 1999 assessments2 of summer flounder and then uses the insights this review provides to help develop ideas on the appropriate collection of fisheries data more generally. Of course, not all stocks are distributed, exploited, or managed in the same way as summer flounder, nor are they all assessed with similar data sets. For example, groundfish in East Coast fisheries (including summer flounder) are sampled more frequently than fish in other regions, so it is important to recognize that summer flounder data are more extensive than those for many other species on the East Coast and fish species from other regions. Some species on the U.S. West Coast are surveyed only once every three years, whereas some U.S. fish stocks are not surveyed at all. Data requirements may be different for other species, but a practical example provided by the summer flounder fishery provides insight and force to the committee's broader recommendations later in the report.

Evaluation of the Summer Flounder Assessments

The summer flounder fishery was used as a case study for broader data issues of greater interest to NMFS. Summer flounder is a particularly appropriate focus of a case study because


The committee first reviewed the 1996 assessment and used 1996 data for analyses in Chapter 2 because the 1999 assessment was not available until late in the project.

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