Evaluation of data-poor and age-structure management strategies for west coast rockfish Public Deposited



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  • Management strategies to prevent overfishing while achieving optimum yield vary according to the available data and life history of the fished stock. I evaluated two sets of management strategies for Pacific coast rockfish: strategies to set harvest limits for data-poor stocks, and strategies intended to protect the age structure of fished stocks. Setting Harvest Limits for Data-poor Stocks - The collapse of canary rockfish, Sebastes pinniger, in the northeast Pacific began more than two decades before the stock was officially declared overfished. The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires a scientifically-based harvest limit for all fished stocks, including those with data limited to catch. Two such "data-poor" methods are currently in use for the management of west coast stocks, depletion-corrected average catch (DCAC) and depletion-based stock reduction analysis (DB-SRA). To evaluate the performance of each method when challenged with catch and biological uncertainty, I retrospectively applied the methods to the catch and biological data available at the time of the first and second canary rockfish stock assessments in 1984 and 1990. In 1980 canary rockfish would be classified as "data-poor", and in 1990 as "data-rich". To evaluate the sensitivity of DCAC and DB-SRA to error in the catch data, harvest limits were estimated using both the historic catch data from each assessment, and the reconstructed catch data from the most recent stock assessment. In addition, harvest limits were estimated using simulated catch data sets for the years 1916 to 1983 with increasing variability around the true catch. DCAC and DB-SRA estimated harvest limits were significantly lower than the catch recommended in both the data-poor and data-rich stock assessments, but higher than the "true" overfishing limit. Use of current catch data improved the estimated harvest limit when the stock was data-poor, but not when the stock was data-rich. The simple methods responded to increasing error in the catch time series with decreasing mean estimates of the harvest limit, indicating that these methods are highly precautionary for this species, when the catch time series is the only source of error. Age Structure Management Strategies - In a variable oceanographic environment, a population with many reproductive age classes benefits not only from the increased fecundity of older fish; but also, in some species, an increase in larval fitness. Older females may also spawn at different times or over longer periods than younger females, increasing the probability of larvae encountering favorable environmental conditions. Despite the accumulating evidence for the importance of age structure to long-term population viability in harvested fish populations, long-lived west coast rockfish (Genus Sebastes) are managed with a biomass-based harvest control rule. I compared three strategies for age structure management, and evaluated the strategies relative to the status quo, biomass-based harvest control rules, across three rockfish life histories. I examined the tradeoff between yield and traditional management reference points, as well as performance measures that could serve as management reference points for age structure. Yield was reduced by strategies that maintain "old growth" age structure, but annual variation in the catch and the probability of becoming overfished were also reduced. The longest-lived rockfish benefited the most from strategies that maintained older fish in the population through dome-shaped selectivity. The shorter-lived rockfish benefited from adjustments in the catch limit based on the age composition of the catch one year previous. Achieving "pretty good yield" with management strategies that also decrease the potential for overexploitation is an important goal for stocks that are well-studied and those that are poorly understood; these investigations contribute to a growing literature on alternative approaches to sustainable fisheries management.
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