|WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood)– February 10, 2014 — On Friday, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center released details and data from a flatfish pilot survey conducted last August designed cooperatively by scientists, fishermen, and gear manufacturers. This survey is part of a larger effort by NOAA to include contemporary, non-traditional information in their data collection for the region, and particularly for the critical yellowtail flounder assessment. Tomorrow, NOAA scientists will meet with industry representatives and fisheries scientists at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) in New Bedford, Mass. to present their findings and discuss ways in which the data can be incorporated into current evaluations.
Saving Seafood’s Bob Vanasse recently sat down with Dr. Bill Karp, Director of NOAA’s Northeast Regional Science Center, to discuss NOAA’s increased focus on cooperative research. Read the summary below:
In this installment of Saving Seafood Radio, Dr. Bill Karp, Director of NOAA’s Northeast Regional Science Center, discusses NOAA’s recently announced decision to incorporate information not previously considered in federal assessments for the upcoming Georges Bank yellowtail flounder stock assessment. This new data will include information from the fishing industry; facts and figures collected by the Science Center’s Social Sciences Branch, which reviews the economic impacts of management decisions; and studies conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST).
According to Dr. Karp, the Georges Bank yellowtail flounder population has been particularly difficult for NOAA to assess due to uncertainty surrounding the cause of a decade-long decline in the stock’s productivity. In July 2012, one of the largest industry associations, the Fisheries Survival Fund (FSF), wrote to NOAA voicing concerns about the methodology used to conduct these assessments. NOAA agreed to make changes to the survey, but maintained its previous approach for the next assessment that took place in 2013. This caused backlash last August when the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC), a cooperative scientific committee that provides advice for jointly managed stocks between the U.S. and Canada, used the unchanged assessment model to recommend drastically reduced catch limits for Georges Bank yellowtail flounder. Following the report, FSF again spoke out against the “deeply flawed” survey. Their criticism was shared by multiple fisheries scientists, including the president of the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists, Dr. Steve Cadrin, who wrote to the New England Fishery Management Council saying that the TRAC assessment provides an “insufficient basis” for fishery management. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Team agreed and recommended a re-examination due to the TRAC model’s “troubling diagnostics.” Much of the criticism surrounds the assessment’s “retrospective pattern,” a term used to describe a systematic under or over-estimation of spawning stock biomass or fishing mortality.
In our interview with Dr. Karp, he explains that “the criticisms to address this retrospective pattern are very real and we [NOAA] have the same concerns.” Conventional methods of dealing with assessment uncertainty require NOAA to look at alternative models – which he says the Agency tried. Last summer, NOAA worked with international scientific groups to discuss different assessment methods using the yellowtail stock as an example. But according to Dr. Karp, the workshop did not shed any new light on its assessment issues. “The challenge we have in this assessment is not being able to find data to help us understand what is going on in a contemporary situation,” said Dr. Karp.
Now, the Northeast Regional Science Center is jumpstarting a new effort to address its uncertainties with historical data and the retrospective pattern by examining information from modern, though non-traditional, sources. These sources will include SMAST surveys and independent research, NOAA pilot surveys, industry data, and facts and figures collected by the Science Center’s Social Sciences Branch, along with other relevant scientific findings. This is a new direction for NOAA, which despite opposition, has maintained the status quo in past yellowtail assessments.
Dr. Karp addresses NOAA’s changed stance, stating, “We [NOAA] have some very important decisions to be made about how we need to focus our science to be more responsive to the needs of the 21st century.” He concludes, “There’s always more to learn by listening to fishermen and members of the broader community.”
Other future goals and challenges for NOAA that Dr. Karp discusses include:
- Striving to increase transparency with the stock assessment process
- Encouraging more participation from outside perspectives
- Strengthening ties with industry and scientific partners, including SMAST
- Moving to an ecosystem-based approach by incorporating how climate change and environmental conditions affect fisheries, and how different fisheries interact with each other
The new, integrative yellowtail assessment, dubbed a “diagnostic benchmark” by the Science Center, appears to be a first step for Dr. Karp and his team in enacting these changes. Starting in April, another leg of the assessment process, which includes public meetings and workshops, will begin. With New England fisheries in a precarious economic state, more informative science and management cannot come soon enough. Dr. Karp is hopeful that the results of the assessment will be used in management measures at the start of Fishing Year 2015.
Listen to the full interview with NOAA Northeast Regional Science Director Dr. Bill Karp
Saving Seafood has previously covered stories concerning yellowtail flounder assessments. For more information on this topic please see:
NOAA Proposes New Georges Bank Yellowtail Assessment that will Allow Consideration of Non-Traditional Information