GAO report finds flaws, data gaps in US fisheries management

NOAA Fisheries improvement projects "don't include key elements such as written goals and timelines," report says.

by | October 25, 2022

Filed Under Uncategorized

Species data collection and resource challenges impacted the “availability and quality of the data”

By Ryan Doyle,

October 18, 2022

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) shared findings from its study of federal efforts to prevent overfishing and the management of overfished stocks.

The GAO shared that its report, focused on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), looked at the number of stock assessments conducted from 2011-2020, along with the number and status of overfishing and overfished stocks during this period.

GAO reviewed “NMFS policies and documents; interviewed NMFS regions, Councils, and relevant stakeholders based on factors such as familiarity with different regions of the United States; and analyzed data from NMFS’ Species Information System database.”

The report shared how commercial and recreational fisheries are critical to the U.S. economy, contributing $118 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and supporting 1.8 million jobs in 2019.

Following its deep dive into federal management efforts, the GAO found in its analysis of NMFS’ data that the number of stock assessments from 2011 through 2020 varied by the six NMFS regional fisheries science centers and that many stocks were not assessed.

“For example, on average, the Southeast Science Center assessed about 10 percent of the 153 stocks it supported each year, while the Alaska Science Center assessed about 78 percent of its 64 stocks,” the GAO shared in its report highlights.

With the NMFS using stock assessments as a way to determine if a stock is being overfished or if overfishing has occurred, the GAO found that the number of stocks with that status varied by science center and many stocks held “unknown statuses.”

The GAO found that challenges that come along with fisheries data collection and resource challenges impacted the “availability and quality of the data.”

“For example, trawl surveys, which are used to collect fisheries data, are challenging and costly to conduct over large geographic areas. These challenges were a key source of the variability in the number of stocks assessed and one of the reasons why many stocks may have unknown status,” the GAO wrote.

Issues were linked to the Species Information System database that prevented conducting certain multiyear trend analyses. According to the GAO, the NMFS has “not documented these structural limitations or developed general guidelines for how to complete such analyses.”

US Government accountability office

NMFS has begun a pair of projects to improve the functionality of its database.

However, the GAO found that these projects don’t include “key project management elements, such as written goals and timelines.”

“Developing a plan that includes these elements could help ensure completion of the projects and help NMFS conduct additional analyses that could be used to support management measures to prevent overfishing and manage overfished stocks,” the GAO wrote.

Find the GAO’s recommendations following its review of federal efforts to prevent overfishing and manage overfished stocks below:

“GAO is making two recommendations to NMFS on the structural limitations of the Species Information System database, including developing guidelines for conducting certain multiyear analyses, as well as incorporating leading practices into its database improvement plans. The agency agreed with GAO’s recommendations.”

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.


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