Interstate commissions should find ways to increase the standardization of state survey data used in federal stock assessments, consistent with important state uses of the data. Commissions should work with NMFS and the states to create and maintain regional databases, and coordinate them through the proposed Fisheries Information System.
Commercial fishermen are a critical source of data about the fish stocks they depend on, and more generally, about marine ecosystems. Under most existing management systems, however, commercial fishermen have many incentives to misreport catch data and few incentives to provide accurate and complete data. Although the extent of misreporting is hard to quantify, evidence suggests that it does occur. Many improvements in fisheries management will require active participation of commercial fishermen in data collection, including more extensive cooperation in sampling and a reduction in misreporting of commercial data. Commercial fishermen should work with NMFS to obtain accurate and precise measures of the relative abundance of fish stocks, both through commercial data and research surveys. Commercial fishermen could help improve both and it would be to their benefit to do so—the fish stocks on which they depend are more likely to be sustained if both fishermen and managers share the same accurate view of the abundance of fish stocks.
Recreational fishermen presently play a relatively small and passive role in data collection, although the interest of anglers in participating in fish-tagging studies have been well demonstrated through the efforts of the American Littoral Society and others to tag sportfish. Angler organizations should increase their cooperation with NMFS and academic scientists to assist in routine data collection and scientifically designed, targeted studies, in order to improve the recreational catch data that are needed in stock assessments. Although scientifically designed tagging studies demand careful implementation, they are crucial to the accurate assessment of fish mortality and movement. Angler assistance is particularly important in fisheries that have a significant recreational component, such as the summer flounder fishery.
The future of fisheries management will be based on complementary data from fishery-independent surveys, commercial fishermen, and recreational fishermen. A particular need is to improve the quality of data from commercial and recreational fisheries, so that stock assessment scientists can be justifiably confident about using such data in their models. Commercial and recreational sources could provide large quantities of data important for stock assessments and for understanding the social and economic aspects of marine fisheries, but these data are not always useful in their present form. The sustainable use of marine fish resources, and concomitant protection of marine environments, will require new levels of commitment by the public and their representatives in Congress and federal and state governments to fund and carry out appropriate data collection and management.