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"Best Science" a Moving Target for Fishery Researchers

Fisheries is a dynamic and science-hungry business, as the recent price of cod demonstrates.

The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 is the federal law that mandates and guides fishery management. It calls for regulations to be based on the best available science.

But what makes one piece of scientific information better than another? And who's to judge?

Here are a few possible definitions of best available science:

  1. Stock assessments: The term "science" has traditionally been interpreted as the biology that goes into calculating how many fish can be harvested without unduly stressing the population. That science has come under fire from fishermen and politicians who say stock assessments need to be more frequent and more reflective of what fishermen see on the water. Stock assessment scientists argue that doing more assessments wouldn't make them better; in fact, it might do just the opposite. It's a classic quantity versus quality conundrum.
  2. Cooperative research: One response to fishermen's complaints about fishery science is to invite them to help design and implement research. The northeast region is home to more cooperative research than any other region in the U.S. Fishermen are helping scientists tackle tricky questions like migratory patterns of sharks and tuna and the impacts of climate change.
  3. Social sciences: Natural sciences aren't the only gig out there. Social sciences - economics, oral histories, demographics - can help fishery managers navigate the value judgements they face each day, and could improve communication and cooperation between fishermen and scientists.

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