Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 1510
Title: A Meta-Analytic Approach to Quantifying Scientific Uncertainty in Stock Assessments
Author: Stephen Ralston, A. E. Punt, O. S. Hamel, John D. DeVore, R. J. Conser
Publication Year: 2011
Journal: Fishery Bulletin
Volume: 109
Issue: 2
Pages: 217-231
Abstract: Quantifying scientific uncertainty when setting total allowable catch limits for fish stocks is a major challenge, but it is a requirement in the United States since changes to national fisheries legislation. Multiple sources of error are readily identifiable, including estimation error, model specification error, forecast error, and errors associated with the definition and estimation of reference points. Our focus here, however, is to quantify the influence of estimation error and model specification error on assessment outcomes. These are fundamental sources of uncertainty in developing scientific advice concerning appropriate catch levels and although a study of these two factors may not be inclusive, it is feasible with available information. For data-rich stock assessments conducted on the U.S. west coast we report approximate coefficients of variation in terminal biomass estimates from assessments based on inversion of the assessment of the models Hessian matrix (i.e., the asymptotic standard error). To summarize variation among stock assessments, as a proxy for model specification error, we characterize variation among multiple historical assessments of the same stock. Results indicate that for 17 groundfish and coastal pelagic species, the mean coefficient of variation of terminal biomass is 18%. In contrast, the coefficient of variation ascribable to model specification error (i.e., pooled among-assessment variation) is 37%. We show that if a precautionary probability of overfishing equal to 0.40 is adopted by managers, and only model specification error is considered, a 9% reduction in the overfishing catch level is indicated.
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