many perceptions of some commercial fishermen that affect their beliefs about fisheries data and stock assessments.

  • Many fishermen believe that fisheries science and fisheries assessments are not objective scientific exercises; instead, they reflect political agendas.

  • There are several steps between a stock assessment and the final management advice. Many fishermen believe that precaution is built into each step of the assessment process, so that the final results are too conservative. Fishermen advocate that scientists should provide completely objective advice and that managers should build in precaution only at the final management stage.

  • Regulations change too frequently and before it has been determined whether management objectives have been achieved. This is especially problematic in cases that result in changes in gear regulations, because fishermen need to undertake the expense of replacing or modifying their gear with each change. The annual changes in the mesh size requirements for summer flounder were noted as an example.

  • The fishing gear and survey techniques used by NMFS in its fishery-independent surveys have remained relatively constant over time. Fishermen no longer use the same kind of gear and consequently believe that NMFS ' use of outdated fishing gear and fishing practices for surveys result in stock assessments that estimate smaller populations than the industry believes are realistic.

  • Many fishermen question a number of assumptions about the biology and population dynamics used in specific stock assessments (e.g., in the case of summer flounder, this includes the assumed level of natural mortality and the assumption of constant selectivity for the older age groups).

Whether or not these concerns are valid from a scientific perspective, management of marine fisheries will be more difficult if these perceptions of fishermen are not addressed.

Because the National Research Council (NRC) was requested by Congress to focus on summer flounder, the committee examined the 1996 and 1999 summer flounder assessments and makes a number of recommendations in this chapter for improving assessments. It should be recognized, however, that NMFS cannot afford to conduct similar investigations for all the species it manages. Therefore, Chapter 4 highlights only those recommendations that should be applied broadly in fisheries data collection, management, and use in the United States. It is the responsibility of NMFS and the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils to determine whether the steps recommended for summer flounder are a priority given the value of summer flounder compared to other fisheries. The lack of certainty in assumptions described below may hinder the summer flounder stock from recovering to its 1980s peak, although environmental factors may also be important deterrents to full stock recovery.

SUMMER FLOUNDER ASSESSMENT ISSUES

Here we examine the facts about summer flounder, determine the merits of the concerns, and recommend to Congress, NMFS, and the councils ways to correct problems and misperceptions. The committee investigated questions related to (1) the biology and population dynamics of summer flounder; (2) summer flounder sampling; and (3) the information content of the model and model assumptions currently in use (Box 2-1). In some cases, data were not available for the committee to investigate the issues.

Some of the concerns about the scientific assessment and management of summer flounder are specific and are dealt with in the following sections. Others result from the fishing industry's lack of trust in and an alienation from the management process. Such alienation suggests that there is a wider problem of cooperation and outreach, which will be addressed in Chapter 4.



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