In New England, the 2014 stock assessment findings indicate a precipitous decline in the Gulf of Maine cod spawning stock biomass, which has led to a critical inspection of the data used, and a closer look at the scientific uncertainty in the population dynamics models. Fishermen in New England’s inshore waters cite a disconnect between their on-the-water observations and the stock assessment and have suggested that increased sampling density is needed to adequately capture ecosystem changes. By addressing these data gaps we can gain a better understanding of trends in the Gulf of Maine cod population, and also build trust and consensus between fishermen and scientists around stock assessment methods and findings.
Collaborative research offers a potential solution to repairing these relationships while also working towards improving data used in stock assessments. Over the years, cooperative research approaches have been used in a range of ways across the region. Looking to build on these programs, the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF) based in Rhode Island, hosted an International Collaborative Research Summit in 2013 focused on the elements of successful collaborative fisheries research initiatives from other countries, and approaches New England might adapt, specifically: data collection, timely data incorporation and analysis, and adaptive management. During the two-day summit, co-sponsored by the NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, The Nature Conservancy, and the Walton Foundation, several key themes emerged including the importance of fishing industry engagement throughout the stock assessment process to foster co-ownership of data and model results, and the importance of using collaborative research outputs in the stock assessment process.
One of the more recent suggestions brought forward by industry members, is the use of industry-based surveys to complement the work of the traditional spring and fall trawl surveys, and the annual inshore surveys. This could lead to increased spatial-temporal resolution of the data, which many fishermen point to as a major gap in current stock assessments. Climate variability has introduced new concerns about the effectiveness of traditional methods, and this type of approach provides an opportunity for fishermen to actively participate in the stock assessment process.
On the West Coast, The Nature Conservancy has partnered with fishermen this winter to provide more specific data on the geographic variations of species’ life history traits and further explore fishing mortality. Data collection is focusing primarily on petrale sole (Eopsetta jordani) in three port areas in central California, and documents length measurements and growth and maturity patterns of the species within each area. This data will be used in conjunction with existing data collection programs in the region, and aims to not only improve stock assessments but also increase fishermen involvement in management issues.
Learning from such efforts is an important step towards reconciling the gulf between fishermen’s experience and knowledge and fisheries science. While NOAA’ s Northeast Cooperative Research Program has made significant strides in building a culture of collaborative research throughout the region, the Gulf of Maine cod situation presents a new opportunity to improve communication and collaboration between the industry, scientists, and managers.