After more than two years of development and planning, a better and more collaborative fishery stock assessment process is debuting in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. The new process puts stock assessments on a regular schedule. It also makes assessments more flexible, with more opportunities for research. It allows more input from industry, and will help continue to provide the best possible scientific advice to managers to ensure the long-term health of fisheries.
As Mike Simpkins, chief of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's Resource Evaluation and Assessment Division says, “Longer term assessment planning gives us more opportunities to communicate with our partners, both external researchers and industry.” Simpkins' division leads fishery stock assessments for NOAA Fisheries in the Northeast.
The improved process has two types of assessments: management and research. The former updates or enhances current assessments, the latter is more comprehensive and can involve new research and extensive changes in the assessment. Both types will be reviewed by an independent panel of experts to ensure that they deliver high-quality science.
By agreeing years, rather than months, ahead on a long-term schedule of assessments, there is now time to develop research specifically for that assessment, and to involve more external researchers and fishermen in that work. There is also more flexibility to include new information during management assessments.
Management assessments provide routine, scheduled, updated advice to directly inform management actions. They are designed to be simple, quick efficient and flexible. They will be able to incorporate new information on a regular cycle. This ensures that our understanding of the health of each stock is updated on a regular and predictable basis.
Research assessments could examine one or two individual stocks or can evaluate an issue or new model that could apply to many stocks. They are complex scientific efforts focused on research topics or individual stocks. These assessments can consider extensive changes in data, model, or stock structure, and are designed to be carried out over several years. They can provide the basis for future management assessments.
More Fishing Industry Engagement in the Process
The relatively short assessment turn-around times of the past limited meaningful fishing industry engagement in an assessment. Now, there is not only opportunity but also the time needed to develop and conduct relevant research with industry and others. Opportunities for communication and input can occur through NOAA Fisheries' programs in the Northeast for cooperative research, research set-aside projects, and collaborative groups like the Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel, as well as other avenues external to the agency.
More Collaborative Assessments
The new assessment process was made possible by the Northeast Region Coordinating Council. This group provides guidance and priorities for stock assessments and consists of leaders from:
- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
- Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office
- Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council
- New England Fisheries Management Council
- Northeast Fisheries Science Center
This cross-cutting group represents the entire life cycle of the stock assessment process within NOAA Fisheries and the regional management bodies – from science, to management, to implementation. By jointly developing a multi-year schedule, the Northeast Region Coordinating Council is creating an opportunity for more coordination among scientists and managers, better planning, and more collaboration with industry and researchers.