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Fish Harvesters and Fisheries Science: Contributing On-the-Water Observations and At the Assessment Table

April 1, 2018

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of the Union Forum, written by FFAW Fisheries Scientist, Dr. Erin Carruthers, PhD, 

Fisheries science – like all science – has a series of steps. On-the-water observations lead to research questions, which in turn are focused into hypothesis or testable expectations. Those expectations are based, not only on observations, but also on an understanding of how the world works. These expectations about how the world works are then ‘tested’ or challenged. New information at any stage in the process can cause you to loop back and help refine your thinking and ideas.

Of course, the fishery is not the same as a chemistry lab. Testing by experiments can be difficult, impossible or not appropriate for all fisheries questions. In fisheries science you may not be able to test a hypothesis but you can look to your information or time series of data and ask: given this hypothesis or expectation, do the data support or refute that expectation? What information is missing? What type of data would challenge my expectations?

Our Union has an important role to play when it comes to participation in fisheries science.

On-the-water observations need to be brought forward to researchers and at the stock assessment table. Participation in surveys and data collection means harvesters have a sense of what data are being brought forward – and what the signal was from their area.

But participation through on-the-water observations and data collection is not enough. Harvesters’ have made, and continue to make, crucial contributions to the design of new surveys or research programs and to the evaluation of existing ones.  The collaborative post-season snow crab survey is a key example of this type of harvester participation.

It is important to have harvesters involved throughout the science process, including having a seat at the stock assessment table. Having a seat at the assessment table means being able to see how the data are used, to understand the process and to understand – and question – assumptions used to build assessment models.

Assessment models are meant to represent an understanding of how a stock is doing; it’s status and how it is changing.  Catch rates, tagging return data, observed migrations or information on the size or age structure of a group of fish are often used to build stock assessment models.

Having a seat at the assessment table means that harvesters have the opportunity to reflect on how an understanding or assessment model is supported – or refuted by – evidence.  Evidence that includes fish harvesters’ records and their on-the-water observations.

Having a seat at the assessment table also means harvesters have the opportunity to understand what is missing and enter the fisheries science loop again, with new observations and on-the-water data collection programs.

Over the past year, harvesters have volunteered their time and bought their experience, observations and understanding to the assessment table for cod, crab, shrimp, capelin, herring, and sea cucumber. Harvesters also contributed to the design and evaluation of survey programs for crab, halibut and redfish last year. This, in addition to ongoing participation in collaborative science research programs for lobster, cod, and crab, among others.  Thank you for your time and effort. It is invaluable.