The Changing Landscape in Atlantic Menhaden Assessments: Best Available Science, Uncertainty, and the Tension between Science and Management
Douglas S. Vaughan and Amy M. Schueller
The Beaufort Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service has been at the forefront of Atlantic Menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus data collection and analysis since the inception of a detailed biological sampling program for the species in 1955. Although analyses and management questions have changed considerably over the decades, our role of providing sound scientific advice for management based on best available science has not. Beaufort scientists have traditionally taken the lead in conducting stock assessments that inform fisheries management decisions for Atlantic Menhaden. Stock assessment analyses are based on data and models with considerable uncertainty, and that uncertainty may extend to conclusions about stock status. We endeavor to use the best data available and most-appropriate models to address relevant management questions. However, inherent uncertainty exists in the data and also may arise from unmet assumptions of the models. When outcomes from a stock assessment result in negative impacts on user groups, the first criticism is that the data are flawed (sometimes true, but often still the best available data) or that the models are inappropriate. Having a thick skin helps! However, it is important to keep in mind that stock-assessment scientists do not manage fish stocks; they do, however, provide the fundamental analyses for stock management.