Fishing for Data: Scientists and Fishermen in Collaboration

Filed under: Opinion Pieces, Publications 

By Penelope D. Dalton

Fishermen and government scientists working together to collect and analyze fisheries data? Impossible you say? Not only possible, but happening in growing numbers and as a top priority of NOAA Fisheries.

Despite the headlines that make it appear that the Feds and the fishing industry are at odds, there are a number of areas where scientists, fishermen, and environmentalists are working together to gather information about fisheries, survey fishing grounds, and strengthen the scientific basis for managing the Nation’s living marine resources. These cases illustrate NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to improve Federal assessments and to make industry and citizen groups partners in resource management.

NOAA Fisheries has addressed regional issues and species-specific needs in various programs around the country. These programs are being enhanced and expanded to take advantage of growing interest both in coastal communities and from the U.S. Congress. In Alaska, for example, annual resource surveys use chartered commercial fishing vessels; fishing companies test fishing gear for both commercial and Federal work; and government scientists participate in industry-funded research. In the northeast, two commercial squid vessels with scientists aboard recently conducted a ten?day survey from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian border on Georges Bank. The pilot survey is providing more accurate information about the short-finned or Ilex squid for stock assessment work and for fishery managers.

Despite the clear need for better information, the existing capacity for data gathering remains limited. Opportunities to involve the private sector are a necessary and growing way to address this limitation. Integral to any data collection is the use of established scientific protocols so that the data gathered is useable. Cooperative efforts must contribute to the task at hand, which is the survey and analysis of trends in abundance of marine resources.

Gathering data at sea can be laborious and time-consuming and the results are often variable and difficult to interpret. Involving fishermen in designing and conducting data collection uses the expertise and insights of people who have worked in the environment for the duration of their careers. The same cooperative effort can also work to improve fishermen’s understanding of how and why government researchers develop scientific advice for fisheries management.
Working together to design and implement data collection programs gets fishery participants involved and strengthens the results. We will be providing a more detailed and comprehensive look at what programs NOAA Fisheries currently has underway when our new website is unveiled in January. In addition, there are numerous new efforts that are just getting off the ground and we hope to include more details in the near future. In the meantime, we urge those interested to contact NOAA Fisheries directly to learn how you might participate and contribute.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Ms. Penelope Dalton is Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service within the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Prior to her NMFS appointment, Ms. Dalton served as Senior professional staff to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation where she directed the Democratic staff of the Committee’s Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee and Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee. Ms. Dalton also worked as a Faculty research assistant at the University of Maryland, a National Sea Grant Fellow with the Commerce Committee, a teacher/lecturer for City Colleges of Chicago adult education program at the Rota Naval Air Station in Rota, Spain and as a Secondary science instructor for the Department of Defense. She also served as a volunteer with the United States Peace Corps where she taught biology and science at high school and first year college levels in Kisii, Sawagongo and Nairobi, Kenya. Ms. Dalton holds a masters of science degree in Marine Estuarine Environmental Science from the University of Maryland and a bachelor of science degree in Biology from Dickinson College.

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