A Question of Science

A Question of Science is a Wild Oceans blog series addressing changes in how the health of Atlantic Menhaden, one of the most important prey fish in the sea, is assessed.

Scientific advice has played a critical role in recent decisions about how to conserve and manage Atlantic menhaden.  As it should.  But beginning with the 2015 benchmark stock assessment – the first conducted with the awareness that it would be used to regulate the fishery – on through the Commission’s halting move toward an ecosystem-based approach to management, science has been at the center of controversy, in particular the way it’s interpreted by the scientists advising the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. 

With another stock assessment underway in 2018-19, along with the invention of new models meant to produce ecological reference points, it’s worth reflecting on how the advent of changes in the way the east coast’s largest commercial fishery is regulated has affected both the science and the public’s confidence in it and, finally, where we go from here.

1. When Everything Changed

Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. – Science Daily Up until about eight years ago, the science was considered sound enough to declare Atlantic menhaden “not overfished” and thereby reject repeated calls by anglers and environmentalists to regulate the catch of what many...

2. Losing Confidence

I started following and attending Atlantic menhaden stock assessments on a regular basis in 1999.  That same year, as a member of the National Ecosystem Principles Advisory Panel, I’d helped write the panel’s Report to Congress, Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management, in which we’d recommended that a first important step toward EBFM would be considering predator-prey relationships...

3. Meeting Resistance

In the first two parts of this series I described how the 2010 Atlantic menhaden stock assessment was scrapped after it triggered the first-ever catch restrictions on the menhaden fishery and replaced with one that allowed catches to increase.  Now we begin to look at why. In a paper presented to the American Fisheries Society...