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Group photo taken Oct. 14, 2011
Credit: Scott Large,  NOAA Fisheries Service

International Fisheries Modeling Group Meets in Woods Hole

Fisheries scientists and modelers from more than a dozen nations met at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Woods Hole Laboratory October 10-14. The international working group reviewed  data, methods and ecosystem models used throughout the North Atlantic and adjacent seas as part of international efforts to better manage the ocean using an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

It was the first annual meeting of the International  Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Working Group on Multi-Species Assessment Methods to be held in Woods Hole. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea coordinates and promotes marine research on oceanography, the marine environment, the marine ecosystem, and on living marine resources in the North Atlantic and adjacent seas.  The group spent the week reviewing data, testing and validating models, and trying to establish some best practices for model selection that can be used by fishery managers.

“We share ideas and test best practices from other nations and get to see things from a different perspective,” said Jason Link, working group co-chair. “No one region or country has all the answers. We learn from each other.  We’re developing a virtual matrix of models, improving how they function as well as developing a better sense of which models are most reliable in which scenarios. There definitely isn’t a one size fits all.” 

The Woods Hole meeting built on past efforts of the working group to develop multispecies models and to fill in some gaps in data.  For example, recent meetings recommended gathering more information on food habits of fish through a stomach sampling program in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and other areas without a regular program to do so.   In the United States, such sampling is routine.  “Knowing what fish eat, and how much food is available to them to eat, is critical to understanding how an ecosystem functions and helps improve the models,” said Link, a member of the Center’s Ecosystems Assessment Program.

“There are many kinds of models, each developed for a specific purpose,“  said meeting co-chair Anna Rindorf from the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen, Denmark.  “Each member works on ecosystem models from their own region, so working group meetings like this enable us to see beyond our own ecosystems.  We get a better sense of ecosystems over a larger geographic area and where the data, methods and models need to be improved, or where they seem to have consistent results and function best.”

Link said one goal of the meeting was to reach a consensus on which models are best for which situations, a best practices list of sorts since there is not one model for every situation.   As an example, the group explored how various ecological factors in an ecosystem should be modeled to accurately reflect changes to the ecosystem, including climate change.

“Fisheries are affected by many ecological factors, from temperature and salinity to invasive or introduced species, the availability of food, habitat and predator-prey relationships,” Rindorf said.   “As stocks rebuild from overfishing, for example, and predator-prey relations change, how do we model those changes?  We cannot see into the oceans, so models help us visualize what that ecosystem looks like under various scenarios.”   

Under the ICES intergovernmental agreement, more than 1600 scientists from 200 institutes are linked "to add value to national research efforts" through scientific research programs and expert groups like this working group as well as the annual science conference. The 2011 conference was held September 19-23 in Gdansk, Poland. 

Members of ICES include all coastal states bordering the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. Fisheries and the more holistic ecosystems approach to fisheries management is a major economic and ecological interest to these nations.

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