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Highlights

Because of concerns raised about the accuracy of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stock assessments, GAO reviewed the assessments for five species of Pacific groundfish: Pacific hake and four types of rockfish--bocaccio, canary, darkblotched, and yelloweye. Specifically, for these five species GAO (1) assessed the reliability of NMFS' stock assessments, (2) identified which relevant recommendations from NMFS' stock assessment improvement plan have been implemented and which have not, and (3) identified the costs associated with planned and ongoing improvements to groundfish stock assessments.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To improve the reliability of Pacific groundfish stock assessments, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of National Marine Fisheries Service to continue efforts to collect more types of data, such as data obtained from surveys in rocky, untrawlable waters, recruitment surveys, and ecosystem studies, for groundfish assessments where reliable data are now lacking.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has taken action to collect more types of data, including (1) conducting annual juvenile groundfish surveys, (2) researching new techniques to determine the amount of untrawlable areas, (3) creating a working group for bottom trawl survey improvements, (4) conducting research on sounds made by fishes to aid in locating them and in studying their behaviors, (5) evaluating line-gear methods for surveying groundfish in a rocky habitat, and (6) developing and testing a new hook design for non-lethal collection of DNA samples.
Department of Commerce To improve the reliability of Pacific groundfish stock assessments, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of National Marine Fisheries Service to establish a standard approach that requires that non-NMFS data used in stock assessments be evaluated for its reliability, and continue efforts to implement the task force's recommendations to improve data quality.
Closed - Implemented
NOAA has taken actions to improve the quality of data used in stock assessments by establishing standardized approaches to evaluate data for reliability. For example, NOAA Fisheries has held workshops with stock assessment scientists to identify and prioritize data requirements. In addition, NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology has initiated a search for existing data to help evaluate potential causes of bias in the current sampling and estimation procedures of several fishery surveys. Finally, NOAA has created the position of "data stewards" to standardize the processing and evaluation of data.
Department of Commerce To improve the reliability of Pacific groundfish stock assessments, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of National Marine Fisheries Service to require that stock assessment reports clearly present the uncertainties in the assessments, such as the margin of error associated with species biomass estimates.
Closed - Implemented
In consultation with NMFS, the Pacific Fishery Management Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) developed the "Groundfish Stock Assessment and Review Process for 2005-2006" to define expectations for uncertainty characterization and to provide guidance on how to depict the uncertainties of the stock assessments. According to NOAA, in April 2005, stock assessment authors began using a revised stock assessment model that can calculate the uncertainties. GAO believes that these changes will result in improved reliability of Pacific groundfish stock assessments.
Department of Commerce To improve the reliability of Pacific groundfish stock assessments, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a comprehensive plan that integrates the NMFS stock assessment improvement plan with other NMFS plans to ensure that stock assessment improvement actions and budget requests are coordinated.
Closed - Implemented
In 2004, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began using the Program Planning, Budgeting and Execution System (PPBES) process. According to NOAA documentation, PPBES is an inclusive process that ties planning, programming, budgeting, and execution together. A NOAA official commented that using the PPBES process addresses GAO's recommendation because it integrates the NMFS stock assessment improvement plan with other NMFS plans, ensuring that the stock assessment improvement activities and budget requests are coordinated.

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