Simplify the Science!

15th November 2010 in Fisheries Science

ICES reviews its stock assessment models

The recurrent problems in ICES’ stock assessments largely caused by the heavy data dependence of the stock assessment models and the inability of the system to deliver the necessary data, has led the scientists to undertake a root and branch review of its assessment models.

At a major conference in Ostend organised by the Belgian Presidency, Dr Carl O’Brien, Vice-Chair of ACOM, the group of international scientists which has the final say on ICES advice, confirmed that ICES is reviewing its assessment models.

“Our models are data hungry”, said Dr O’Brien. “But the provision of data is not improving; in fact it’s getting worse. The future does not lie in obtaining more and more complicated data, to feed more and more complicated models. That implies a level of precision that we do not have and it suggests that our traditional age-structured models are becoming less useful for management.”

“Instead we are investigating whether ICES could move to simpler models which require less complicated data and are capable of using data generated by the industry – for example through fisheries science partnerships.”

“We are already successfully using simplified models for deep sea stocks where the data is scarce. This approach could also have relevance to the fisheries in the North Sea, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea. If we can’t supply the data for sophisticated stock assessment models, perhaps we need to refocus on more simple models. This process is underway within ICES now.”

The use of simpler assessment models that allow for the use of industry knowledge and data could mark a huge breakthrough in breaking down barriers between scientists and fishermen. At present industry data is frequently patronised as “interesting but anecdotal,” meaning that it is frequently sidelined as incapable of being incorporated into the ICES models.

Someone once said that “all models are wrong but some models are useful”. The willingness of ICES to review its models suggests that a corner may be about to be turned.

Partnership in Science

The two day conference shed light on the incredible range of fisheries science partnership projects now undertaken across the EU.

The NFFO was not shy in underlining its central role in developing, with Defra and Cefas, in 2003, the groundbreaking Fisheries Science Partnership (FSP), although we had the good grace to acknowledge that we did borrow ideas from both North America and Norway.

Defra and ICES pointed out that more than 80 fisheries science partnership projects have been completed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, earning recognition of the FSP as world class participative fisheries science.

It was apparent that most of the fisheries organisations, scientists, member state government representatives and NGOs present, believed that the various fisheries science partnerships laid the foundations for a future decentralised CFP.