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Fishermen, Scientists, and Regulators Convene to Discuss Stock Assessment Improvements

Oct 2, 2015
2015 Issue 2

In an effort to increase collaboration between industry, scientists, and NOAA Fisheries towards improved stock assessments, GMRI recently convened a series of meetings entitled, Fish Tank: A Collaborative Approach to Improving Stock Assessments.

The format of these meetings was modeled after the 2007 and 2009 series of Fish Tank meetings around Amendment 16. These meetings helped New England groundfish industry members address the development of Amendment 16. Once again, the ability to discuss difficult issues face-to-face among a variety of stakeholders and scientists generated innovative ideas and provided a platform for future collaborations.

Spanning from February to April and held throughout New England, the meetings generated discussion to elicit both real and perceived gaps in stock assessment methods and data sources. In particular, the meetings provided fishermen with a forum to voice their on-the-water observations and suggestions for improvements for both fisheries independent and fisheries dependent data collection.

GMRI held seven Fish Tank meetings in total: five with commercial fishermen in Portland, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Plymouth and Warwick, and two with recreational fishermen in Portsmouth and Plymouth. In addition to fishermen, meeting participants included scientists and managers from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), academic institutions, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), and GMRI. The presence of scientists and managers served largely as a sounding board, with the hopes of future synthesis of industry ideas into research priorities for the region.

The format of the meetings allowed fishermen to more readily express their concerns and recommendations and engage in open and honest dialogue with NEFSC and GARFO representatives. “It was great to sit down together and really work with people like Paul Rago and Mark Grant to discuss ways industry can add to the data sets available to science and management,” said David Waldrip, a charter boat captain out of Boston. 

A common theme of collaboration and innovation was evident in discussions at each meeting. “We need to work more cooperatively if there is going to be positive change,” said fisherman David Goethel, at the commercial Portsmouth meeting. “The more we can merge fisheries science with fishermen’s observations and data, the more we will know about what is really happening with our fish stocks, and the better relations will be in the region.” Indeed, much of the dialogue in the meetings focused on increasing communication and collaboration, and incorporating fishermen inputs and ideas into the stock assessment process. 

Other perceived gaps and recommendations made by industry concerned the trawl survey, fishery dependent data, environmental data and parameters, stock structure, and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). In particular, commercial fishermen were concerned with the spatial and temporal limitations of the trawl survey, and the use of fishery dependent and environmental data in assessments. Recreational fishermen were primarily concerned with the accuracy of MRIP survey catch estimates, and also highlighted the need to further incorporate fishermen's observations into assessments. “Without bringing the facts to the table and having fishery managers understand accurate and truthful landings and discards,” said David Waldrip, “the recreational and charter boat industry will continue to be in serious trouble.”

“What it comes down to is this,” said Chris Brown, a commercial groundfish fisherman out of Rhode Island, “we need a shared vision that is forward thinking, that fixes not just the science, but the big picture, and we need constant dialogue and collaboration to achieve such a vision.”

For information on next steps of the Fish Tank series, please visit www.gmri.org/fishtank.