The Fragility of Precautionary Reference Points
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A basic idea in fisheries management is that a fishery should be managed so that there is sufficient spawning stock biomass left to reproduce after the following year’s fishing. An essential task for the scientists has thus been to predict spawning stock one to two years ahead. The focus on precautionary approach in fisheries management is an expression of a will to be careful with the marine resources by taking into account the uncertainty in science. The fisheries science community has responded by designing precautionary reference points to reflect the state of the stock and the uncertainty in the predicted spawning stock biomass and fishing mortality rate. However, experience has shown that this has not become the intended success. In this paper I argue that the precautionary reference points do not communicate uncertainty adequately. The system of reference points is static regarding the communication of uncertainty, it is an inefficient way of communicating uncertainty, it only reflects part of the total uncertainty in advice and it is value-laden as it is not transparent regarding underlying assumptions. In addition, the ACFM advice on catch options communicates an incorrect precision level and contradicts the precision level reflected by the reference points. ICES should therefore rethink the concept on how to communicate fisheries related advice that is more robust and more in accordance with the precautionary approach. The solution to the mismatch between quantified uncertainty and the total uncertainty could be to partly move the focus from quantified uncertainty to qualitative perspectives of the uncertainty. I include some suggestions that can be further explored.
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