Management decisions in data- and resource-limited situations about how to adjust fishing pressure, and by how much, can be the most difficult assignment managers must undertake. Too often, fisheries are not managed at all or management measures are based on standard practices without an adequate scientific basis; this creates a high risk of overfishing and the loss of economic and social benefits from fisheries. Luckily, the science of data-limited assessments is evolving, and the number of available tools is increasing over time. The Framework for Integrated Stock and Habitat Evaluation (FISHE) pulls from leading research on adaptive, data-limited methods to help fishermen, marine scientists and managers conduct quick and inexpensive stock assessments and make fishery management decisions based on science, even when data and capacity are limited.
The eleven-step FISHE process starts with (1) goal setting, then helps stakeholders (2) estimate ecosystem health, (3) assess species vulnerability and (4) depletion, (5) prioritize target species based on these preliminary assessments, (6) select appropriate indicators of fishery sustainability that can be quantified using the available data and data-limited analytical tools, (7) identify reference points for each indicator, (8) work with stakeholders to determine harvest control rules to ensure the appropriate response to assessment results will be enacted, (9) select and apply data-limited stock assessments using information from multiple independent data streams in order to reduce uncertainty, (10) evaluate the resulting indicator values against the reference points and interpret the results together, and (11) choose management actions aimed at achieving the stated goals. The process is repeated each year (at least) to determine the status of the fishery and to help managers and stakeholders decide whether management changes are necessary or not.
In addition to being useful in data- and resource-limited situations, managing adaptively is important due to the dynamic nature of fisheries. Fisheries are highly dynamic processes involving fluctuating environmental conditions, dynamic fishing behaviors, variable productivity of the resource and changing market and economic conditions. As a result, fisheries management must be designed to be flexible and adaptable to respond to changing conditions. Developing a robust adaptive management framework provides managers with the means to re-evaluate and adjust decisions periodically based on observations about fisheries conditions and from learning from the outcomes from previous management decisions. Adaptive learning and management are essential in moving towards successful management in communities with limited data and resources. This is also the best way to deal with changes in fish distribution, abundance, and productivity associated with global warming.
For some fisheries, stakeholders and managers may determine that higher investment in data collection and assessment is necessary to enhance fishery outcomes. For other fisheries, data-limited assessment and adaptive management may suffice. Data collection systems should be designed to continuously improve the quality and quantity of data available for assessment and management, within the cost and capacity constraints of the fishery. Careful design of data collection systems (see Collect More Data) to match assessment methods and management needs is important; many data collection systems have required much effort and cost but have not resulted in useful data because the data do not match the needs of the analytical methods or cannot be used to evaluate the most important indicators of fishery performance. Closely tying data collection investments to improvements in outputs will also enhance fishermen’s and managers’ confidence in the process.
Are you ready to begin? Get started by downloading the workbook and completing the Pre-assessment Worksheets to characterize your fishery and determine what data are available. The Workbook Table of Contents and Guidance can be used to navigate through the materials you’ve downloaded, which correspond to Steps 1-11 and the Method Matrix. More information on each step can be found in the left-hand panel of this website.