NOAA 2002-097
Contact: Susan Buchanan
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Plan Cites Need for Increased Partnerships and Staff;
Shift Toward Ecosystem-based Management

A panel of senior scientists from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has mapped out the path for most sophisticated and comprehensive knowledge about U.S. marine fish stocks to date.

The findings are in the Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment Improvement Plan announced today by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). The plan is a thorough evaluation of resources scientists need to more accurately assess the status of U.S. fish populations.

"This is the most detailed review of stock assessment capabilities and needs the agency has ever undertaken," said Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries. "It identifies resources we need to do a better job now, builds the scientific basis for next-generation, ecosystem-based management and outlines how our colleagues in the fishing industry and in other research institutions can help."

NOAA Fisheries is a world leader in developing and applying state-of-the-art stock assessment techniques and analytical methods. Capability to meet ever-increasing demands for more frequent and complex assessments on more species has been severely strained.

"Implementation of this plan will greatly improve our knowledge of marine species and provide a better basis for risk-averse management decisions," said Dr. Pamela Mace, chair of the scientific panel. "Along with responsible policy development, there will be fewer depleted or over-fished stocks and greater stability and profitability in fishing activities."

The panel identifies five critical components for sound management of fisheries: fish catch information; estimates of stock abundance; species' life history facts; analyses of human and environmental impacts on fish populations; and timeliness and frequency of assessments.

NOAA scientists evaluated more than 900 fish stocks the agency manages, then ranked those stocks for the amount of information that is available within the five sound management components. This evaluation shows that stocks with the longest history of commercial use or value rank high for having the best data collection programs and the most comprehensive assessments. NOAA Fisheries scientists routinely assess 120 stocks with state-of-the art methods, sometimes incorporating inter-species and environmental factors.

The panel concluded that existing data and life history information are too sparse to provide useful assessments for more than 60 percent of the regulated stocks. It devised a three-tiered method for advancing assessments, which includes better use of existing fishery data; moving to advanced data collection and analyses; and creating more sophisticated assessments incorporating interrelationships between species and their environment.

The panel report details how expanded partnerships and staff would boost the agency's data collection and analysis capabilities and to present results to fishery managers in a timely manner. The report indicates that modernization of stock assessments will require at least 600 additional positions. Mace notes that cooperative research opportunities exist for industry, academic researchers, other research institutions and environmental organizations to fill some of these roles. The study's analyses have already been used in recent evaluations of the agency's capabilities.

"The agency is asked almost daily for more precise, real-time information on fish stocks and fishing operations," said Hogarth. "This ambitious plan provides rationale for the agency's initiatives and will set a high standard for the future of fishery stock assessments."

The agency's workforce includes about 2,500 in-house employees, with 450 directly supporting stock assessments. About 250 contract staff (mostly observers) and 200 partners from regional and state agencies and universities contribute to the effort.

The plan is designed to complement other important agency initiatives, particularly those concerning modernization of the research vessel fleet and advanced technology. Numerous technological advances that could greatly improve the accuracy and precision of stock assessments are currently being developed and tested. These include multi-frequency acoustics, multi-beam sonar, laser line scan systems and electronic satellite tags.

The plan is available as NOAA Technical Memorandum F/SPO-56, Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment Improvement Plan, both in hard copy and online. To obtain a copy, contact Mark Chandler, NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, (301) 713-2363 ext. 152;; or download the document at