Expert Report

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.

Marine fish are important as a source of food, an item of commerce, recreational opportunity, and cultural traditions in the United States and worldwide. Data from marine fisheries contributes to our understanding of the marine environment and how humans relate to and use living marine resources. Since this is such a complex and overarching issue, all the participants in fisheries management should take actions to improve the collection, management, and use of fisheries data. This report provides recommendations to Congress, the National Marine Fisheries Service, regional fishery management councils, interstate commissions, and commercial and recreational fisherman with the objective of improving fisheries data and thereby fisheries management.

Key Messages

  • In recent years, increased concern has been expressed about the effect of fishing on marine ecosystems, in addition to its direct effect on target species of fish.
  • A dramatic increase in information on essential fish habitats is likely to result from the emphasis on this matter in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
  • ACCSP has been a good model of a regional data management system up to this point in its development.
  • Adaptive sampling provides a means of increasing the precision of certain kinds of survey estimates, especially total biomass of some species, by using information obtained during the survey to determine where additional sampling should be done.
  • Commercial and recreational fishermen may misreport catch, bycatch and discards, or landings for a variety of reasons.
  • Commercial fishermen are businessmen who must devote a great deal of time and effort to keeping their businesses solvent. Any time that they are not tending to their business creates an opportunity cost that must be balanced against the benefit of the alternative activity.
  • Confidentiality of fisheries data is restrictive to the point of hindering both research and management.
  • Data collected from scientifically designed surveys are often contrasted with that collected from fishery operations.
  • Data collection could be made more costeffective through changes in the allocation of survey effort, collection of commercial and recreational catch and effort statistics, and optimization of regional monitoring through observer programs and vessel monitoring systems.
  • Data entry without verification and manual transfer of logbook data to electronic systems are opportunities for errors to enter databases.
  • Data fouling is a serious problem that can result from specific types of management.
  • Despite the significant effort that goes into designing and implementing fishery surveys to sample individual fish to characterize populations, survey data still usually enter assessments as point values with no corresponding estimate of uncertainty, such as variance.
  • Estimating the costs and benefits of existing and planned fisheries data management systems is an important task.
  • Fishermen often believe that data are mishandled or misrepresented to support hidden agendas.
  • Fishery-independent surveys using calibrated vessels owned by NOAA provide vital and irreplaceable data for stock assessments and ecological monitoring and other fishery assessment purposes.
  • Institutional arrangements for management of data are evolving toward systems of regional and national coordination and access.
  • It has been known for some time that environmental factors influence recruitment, as indicated by the poor relationships between the size of the spawning stock biomass and recruitment for many species.
  • It is difficult for individuals outside NMFS to access many types of fisheries data held by the agency, although NMFS does provide some basic queries for both commercial and recreational data on its Web site.
  • It would be more cost-effective to find ways to improve the collection and use of data from commercial and recreational fisheries in stock assessments than for the vernment to conduct vastly increased surveys, although there are areas in which surveys need to be increased.
  • Logbooks compiled by fishermen and fish dealers can be effective and cost-effective sources of data concerning abundance and other characteristics of fish stocks and fisheries.
  • Long-term fisheries survey programs are rarely evaluated to determine whether the survey design provides accurate and precise estimates of abundance or relative changes in abundance.
  • MRFSS was designed to monitor recreational catch and effort each year to use in stock assessments run in subsequent years. MRFSS provides a relatively long time series of such data. It was not designed to track catch during a season for the purpose of monitoring recreational catch against the TAC.
  • Many fishery problems that appear to result from the biology of fish stocks are actually rooted in the economics of a fishery.
  • Many of the regional data management systems seem to have arisen and accreted from within states or regions without much external review or even periodic internal review.
  • Many types of stakeholders could be users of new fishery databases.
  • Observers are an essential source of some kinds of information needed to validate or adjust self-reported commercial data.
  • Part of the image problem shared by NMFS and the regional councils is lack of communication on a level that is informative and appealing to stakeholders.
  • Several different paths have been taken in different regions of the United States to manage fisheries data.
  • Some important forms of fishery-dependent data are either not collected (e.g., some economic and social data) or are underutilized because their accuracy is mistrusted.
  • Standards of potential importance to fisheries data management range from commonly accepted data and information standards such as SQL, TCP/IP, Z39.50 searchable indices, CORBA, and Government FIPS standards for federal systems, to Internet standards (TCP/IP, HTTP).
  • Stock assessment science and fisheries management are still developing fields. Improvements in each are still needed and will be fueled by continued research and development.
  • The accuracy of survey data is mainly a function of sampling over a stock's entire geographic range and adequate sampling of all age and size classes.
  • The committee could find no existing analyses of the costs and benefits of data collection and management for specific fisheries, particularly of the ratio of marginal costs and marginal benefits for each additional dollar spent on data collection.
  • The effectiveness of fisheries management depends on the use of timely data of suitable accuracy and precision to provide answers to questions about a stock's current status, desired future status, and actions needed to achieve the desired status.
  • The frequency of NMFS surveys varies from stock to stock and region to region.
  • The information content of an assessment, namely the data and the model structure and assumptions, should be subject to periodic peer review.
  • The lack of a national program for saltwater fishing licenses greatly complicates estimation of recreational catch and effort.
  • The review of data collection procedures is usually handled tangentially in the course of reviewing stock assessments, but few reviews focus on data collection.
  • The use of gear standardized over time is important for maintaining consistent measures of relative abundance. Surveys are generally designed to yield estimates of abundance that can be related to estimates based on catches with the same gear in previous years.
  • Unlike most commercial fishery operations, in which a small number of vessels land large volumes of fish in a highly regulated manner at designated ports, most recreational fisheries tend to have a great number of individual fishermen who are highly dispersed in where they fish and how they land fish, operating in a system that is not uniformly regulated or licensed.
  • Vessel monitoring systems (VMSs) have been tested in several U.S. fisheries, demonstrating their usefulness in tracking the locations of fishing vessels and their usefulness to enforcement personnel, managers, and to the fishermen themselves.