Lessons for stock assessment from the northern cod collapse
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Fisheries assessment scientists can learn at least three lessons from the collapse of the northern cod off Newfoundland: (1) assessment errors can contribute to overfishing through optimistic long-term forecasts leading to the build-up of overcapacity or through optimistic assessments which lead to TACs being set higher than they should; (2) stock size overestimation is a major risk when commercial catch per effort is used as an abundance trend index, so there is continued need to invest in survey indices of abundance trend no matter what assessment methodology is used; and (3) the risk of recruitment overfishing exists and may be high even for very fecund species like cod. This implies that harvest rate targets should be lower than has often been assumed, especially when stock size assessments are uncertain. In the end, the high cost of information for accurate stock assessment may call for an alternative approach to management, involving regulation of exploitation rate via measures such as large-scale closures (refuges) that directly restrict the proportion of fish available to harvest. Development of predictive models for such regulatory options is a major challenge for fisheries assessment science.
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