Consensus Report

Improving the Use of the "Best Scientific Information Available" Standard in Fisheries Management (2004)


Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (FCMA), managers are required to use the "best scientific information available" in the preparation of federal fishery management plans (National Standard 2 in FCMA). However, the Act provides no further guidance as to how conformance to this standard should be determined. Because adherence to this standard has often been contentious, Congress has considered adding a definition for what constitutes "best scientific information available" in the reauthorization of FCMA. This report examines both the current application and the controversy over the standard and recommends that NOAA Fisheries adopt procedural guidelines to ensure that the scientific information used in the development of fishery management plans is relevant and timely and is the product of processes characterized by inclusiveness, transparency and openness, timeliness, and peer review.

Key Messages

  • A statutory definition of what constitutes best scientific information available for fisheries management is inadvisable because it could impede the incorporation of new types of scientific information and would be difficult to amend if circumstances warranted change.
  • Establishing procedural guidelines is the preferred alternative for creating accountability and enhancing the credibility of scientific information used in fisheries management.
  • Fisheries science centers and fishery management councils report a common interpretation of National Standard 2; however, there are both institutional and regional differences in the application of the standard.
  • National Standard 2 embodies the idea that decisions regarding management and conservation should be made in a timely and effective fashion with available information despite recognized data gaps.