June 14, 2004

GAO Releases Smith-Wyden Requested Report on Pacific Groundfish

Senators Press for Better Accounting

Washington, DC Today, U.S. Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden announced the release of a General Accounting Office (GAO) report, Pacific Groundfish: Continued Efforts Needed to Improve Reliability of Stock Assessments. In December 2002, Smith and Wyden requested the investigation into the reliability of the data being used by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to conduct stock assessments on the multi-species Pacific groundfish complex. Stock assessments provide estimates of the species population, which NMFS uses to set harvest limits that allow for sustainability and/or recovery of the species.The fishing industry is a vital part of Oregons economy, especially for the families who depend on the sea for their livelihood, said Smith. Stock assessments can determine whether or not a fishing family will be able to earn a living. It is imperative that they are as accurate as possible to ensure the survival of both fishers and fish.The livelihoods of West Coast groundfishers and the future of our coastal resources depend on accurate information and sound management decisions, said Wyden. The report released today confirms what fishers, scientists, and fishery managers have been saying better data and better analysis of data is needed to ensure that the best management models are being implemented. The National Marine Fisheries Service now needs to place a high priority on making the recommended changes.The report concluded that the Pacific groundfish assessments reviewed did not:" use scientifically designed and collected NMFS data of sufficient scope and accuracy, such as survey data on the abundance of groundfish residing in rocky, untrawlable habitats" subject the non-NMFS data used to a standard process for assessing its reliability" identify the uncertainties of the assessments total biomass estimates" As a result, the reliability of the five assessments is questionable. Without reliable assessments, fishery managers may reach erroneous conclusions and take actions that could adversely affect the fishing industry economically or adversely affect the recovery and sustainability of the fishery resources. Moreover, without a comprehensive, integrated improvement plan, funding requests and planned actions to improve the stock assessments may not be coordinated, jeopardizing successful and timely implementation of assessment improvements.The Pacific groundfish fishery involves 81 different species harvested by a variety of commercial fishing gears, as well as recreational charter vessels, individual recreational anglers, and tribal fishermen exercising their treaty rights. Groundfish are also incidentally taken in the salmon and shrimp fisheries.Based on the biomass levels determined by recent stock assessments, as required by current law, for four species of the genus Sebastes: canary rockfish, bocaccio rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and darkblotched rockfish, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended drastically reduced harvests for 2002 and 2003. Because these species are caught in association with other, more productive species, fishermen are being forced to forgo other harvests in order to provide the level of protection needed. These harvest reductions are having a devastating effect on coastal communities in Oregon, Washington, and California.The full report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04606.pdf.