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News - theworldlink.com - Serving the Great South Coast of Oregon


Report reinforces fishermen's claims that data is flawed

Rockfish recently unloaded from a Charleston commercial fishing vessel are in a bucket, ready to go to a processor. World File Photo

Groundfish stock assessments, the federal government reports that form the basis of decisions about managing the biggest fishery off the West Coast, are unreliable for five species of fish, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported this week.

U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in 2002 asked the GAO to investigate the reliability of the data the National Marine Fisheries Service uses to conduct studies of the more than 80 species of bottom-dwelling fish that make up the groundfish category.

"The fishing industry is a vital part of Oregon's economy, especially for the families who depend on the sea for their livelihood," Smith said in a press release. "Stock assessments can determine whether or not a fishing family will be able to earn a living. It is imperative that they are as accurate as possible to ensure the survival of both fishers and fish."

Since before the federal government declared the fishery a failure in 1999, fishermen protested the government's findings that some species were in trouble. Though this report doesn't say the data is wrong per se, it does support the claims that the quality and types of data the fisheries service used may be flawed.

It also supports the agency's assertions that it will take about $8.9 million to streamline the data-gathering and review process and implement changes.

It's a price tag that the fishing industry has asked the government to pay. During federal budget meetings, the West Coast industry and both Smith and Wyden have pushed for groundfish research increases, but the increases haven't been approved and the funding has remained level or declined since at least 2001.

"There's no question that groundfish research is underfunded and if we are serious about maintaining a healthy fishery, we need to get that money," said Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association during a telephone interview from Culver City, Calif., where fishery managers are meeting this week.

The report also noted that in three assessments, the data gathered was from only trawlable areas and not the untrawlable areas such as rocky habitats, where some of the species may often be found. Currently, the fishing industry and NMFS are working on two projects that would use non-extractive methods, such as sonar and video cameras, to better survey canary and widow rockfish populations.

The GAO noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the fisheries service, generally agreed with the report's accuracy and recommendations but "expressed concern that the report's conclusion could be misconstrued to infer that the assessments are unreliable for use in managing the West Coast groundfish fishery."

It later said that though some of the assessments may be unreliable, they were based on the only and best data the government had available at the time.

"The report released today confirms what fishers, scientists and fishery managers have been saying - better data and better analysis of data is needed to ensure that the best management models are being implemented," Wyden said in the release.

Report: Research lacking in assessments used to set groundfish seasons

Another article:  Report: Research lacking in assessments used to set groundfish seasons (06/16/04) kgw.com


By JEFF BARNARD  / Associated Press

Federal assessments of fish populations used to set seasons for West Coast groundfish are based on questionable research, according to a report Monday from a government watchdog agency.

The General Accounting Office, the research arm of Congress, recommended that the secretary of Commerce order NOAA Fisheries to improve the quality and types of data used in fish population assessments, establish standard approaches to determine the reliability of data from outside sources and require the assessments to clearly identify the uncertainties they represent.

"Stock assessments can determine whether or not a fishing family will be able to earn a living," said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who requested the GAO report along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in December 2002. "It is imperative that they are as accurate as possible to ensure the survival of both fishers and fish."

"The National Marine Fisheries Service now needs to place a high priority on making the recommended changes," said Wyden.

NOAA Fisheries has taken steps to improve stock assessments, increasing the frequency and geographic area of surveys to produce more data, the report said. However, due to staffing and funding limits, the agency had not implemented many of the existing recommendations for improvements.

NOAA Fisheries records indicate it would cost at least $8.9 million to make the improvements, but the cost could be much more, the report added.

"There is no doubt it's been a frustration that we haven't been able to do the kind of research we need to do to manage these stocks better," said NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman. "We've tried to achieve some savings using fishing boats to help us do research. But you can always do more.

"When you don't have as much scientific data as you'd like, you tend to have to manage very conservatively. The more you know, the more liberally you can manage stocks. It's just tough for us and tough for fishermen."

In 2000, the federal government declared a disaster in the groundfish fishery after the 20-year average catch of 74,000 tons dropped to 36,000 tons.

Groundfish trawlers were pushed off most of the Continental Shelf for the 2003 season to conserve dwindling stocks of bocaccio, yelloweye and darkblotched rockfish.

The fishing cutbacks could have a long-term economic impact on some coastal communities in California, Washington and Oregon, because scientists expect restoring some of the rockfish to healthy populations could take nearly a century.

A buyback organized by the Fishermen's Marketing Cooperative has cut the West Coast fleet by about a third to 142 boats to allow the remaining boats to make a living on reduced harvest quotas.




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