(a) Standard 2. Conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.
(1) Fishery conservation and management require high quality and timely biological, ecological, environmental, economic, and sociological scientific information to effectively conserve and manage living marine resources. Successful fishery management depends, in part, on the thorough analysis of this information, and the extent to which the information is applied for:
(i) Evaluating the potential impact that conservation and management measures will have on living marine resources, essential fish habitat (EFH), marine ecosystems, fisheries participants, fishing communities, and the nation; and
(ii) Identifying areas where additional management measures are needed.
(2) Scientific information that is used to inform decision making should include an evaluation of its uncertainty and identify gaps in the information. Management decisions should recognize the biological (e.g., overfishing), ecological, sociological, and economic (e.g., loss of fishery benefits) risks associated with the sources of uncertainty and gaps in the scientific information.
(3) Information-limited fisheries, commonly referred to as “data-poor” fisheries, may require use of simpler assessment methods and greater use of proxies for quantities that cannot be directly estimated, as compared to data-rich fisheries.
(4) Scientific information includes, but is not limited to, factual input, data, models, analyses, technical information, or scientific assessments. Scientific information includes data compiled directly from surveys or sampling programs, and models that are mathematical representations of reality constructed with primary data. The complexity of the model should not be the defining characteristic of its value; the data requirements and assumptions associated with a model should be commensurate with the resolution and accuracy of the available primary data. Scientific information includes established and emergent scientific information. Established science is scientific knowledge derived and verified through a standard scientific process that tends to be agreed upon often without controversy. Emergent science is relatively new knowledge that is still evolving and being verified, therefore, may potentially be uncertain and controversial. Emergent science should be considered more thoroughly, and scientists should be attentive to effective communication of emerging science.
(5) Science is a dynamic process, and new scientific findings constantly advance the state of knowledge. Best scientific information is, therefore, not static and ideally entails developing and following a research plan with the following elements: Clear statement of objectives; conceptual model that provides the framework for interpreting results, making predictions, or testing hypotheses; study design with an explicit and standardized method of collecting data; documentation of methods, results, and conclusions; peer review, as appropriate; and communication of findings.
(6) Criteria to consider when evaluating best scientific information are relevance, inclusiveness, objectivity, transparency and openness, timeliness, verification and validation, and peer review, as appropriate.
(i) Relevance. Scientific information should be pertinent to the current questions or issues under consideration and should be representative of the fishery being managed. In addition to the information collected directly about the fishery being managed, relevant information may be available about the same species in other areas, or about related species. For example, use of proxies may be necessary in data-poor situations. Analysis of related stocks or species may be a useful tool for inferring the likely traits of stocks for which stock-specific data are unavailable or are not sufficient to produce reliable estimates. Also, if management measures similar to those being considered have been introduced in other regions and resulted in particular behavioral responses from participants or business decisions from industry, such social and economic information may be relevant.
(ii) Inclusiveness. Three aspects of inclusiveness should be considered when developing and evaluating best scientific information:
(A) The relevant range of scientific disciplines should be consulted to encompass the scope of potential impacts of the management decision.
(B) Alternative scientific points of view should be acknowledged and addressed openly when there is a diversity of scientific thought.
(C) Relevant local and traditional knowledge (e.g., fishermen's empirical knowledge about the behavior and distribution of fish stocks) should be obtained, where appropriate, and considered when evaluating the BSIA.
(iii) Objectivity. Scientific information should be accurate, with a known degree of precision, without addressable bias, and presented in an accurate, clear, complete, and balanced manner. Scientific processes should be free of undue nonscientific influences and considerations.
(iv) Transparency and openness.
(A) The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides broad public and stakeholder access to the fishery conservation and management process, including access to the scientific information upon which the process and management measures are based. Public comment should be solicited at appropriate times during the review of scientific information. Communication with the public should be structured to foster understanding of the scientific process.
(B) Scientific information products should describe data collection methods, report sources of uncertainty or statistical error, and acknowledge other data limitations. Such products should explain any decisions to exclude data from analysis. Scientific products should identify major assumptions and uncertainties of analytical models. Finally, such products should openly acknowledge gaps in scientific information.
(v) Timeliness. Mandatory management actions should not be delayed due to limitations in the scientific information or the promise of future data collection or analysis. In some cases, due to time constraints, results of important studies or monitoring programs may be considered for use before they are fully complete. Uncertainties and risks that arise from an incomplete study should be acknowledged, but interim results may be better than no results to help inform a management decision. Sufficient time should be allotted to audit and analyze recently acquired information to ensure its reliability. Data collection methods are expected to be subjected to appropriate review before providing data used to inform management decisions.
(A) For information that needs to be updated on a regular basis, the temporal gap between information collection and management implementation should be as short as possible, subject to regulatory constraints, and such timing concerns should be explicitly considered when developing conservation and management measures. Late submission of scientific information to the Council process should be avoided if the information has circumvented the review process. Data collection is a continuous process, therefore analysis of scientific information should specify a clear time point beyond which new information would not be considered in that analysis and would be reserved for use in subsequent analytical updates.
(B) Historical information should be evaluated for its relevance to inform the current situation. For example, some species' life history characteristics might not change over time. Other historical data (e.g., abundance, environmental, catch statistics, market and trade trends) provide time-series information on changes in fish populations, fishery participation, and fishing effort that may inform current management decisions.
(vi) Verification and validation. Methods used to produce scientific information should be verified and validated to the extent possible.
(A) Verification means that the data and procedures used to produce the scientific information are documented in sufficient detail to allow reproduction of the analysis by others with an acceptable degree of precision. External reviewers of scientific information require this level of documentation to conduct a thorough review.
(B) Validation refers to the testing of analytical methods to ensure that they perform as intended. Validation should include whether the analytical method has been programmed correctly in the computer software, the accuracy and precision of the estimates is adequate, and the estimates are robust to model assumptions. Models should be tested using simulated data from a population with known properties to evaluate how well the models estimate those characteristics and to correct for known bias to achieve accuracy. The concept of validation using simulation testing should be used, to the extent possible, to evaluate how well a management strategy meets management objectives.
(vii) Peer review. Peer review is a process used to ensure that the quality and credibility of scientific information and scientific methods meet the standards of the scientific and technical community. Peer review helps ensure objectivity, reliability, and integrity of scientific information. The peer review process is an organized method that uses peer scientists with appropriate and relevant expertise to evaluate scientific information. The scientific information that supports conservation and management measures considered by the Secretary or a Council should be peer reviewed, as appropriate. Factors to consider when determining whether to conduct a peer review and if so, the appropriate level of review, include the novelty and complexity of the scientific information to be reviewed, the level of previous review and the importance of the information to be reviewed to the decision making process. Routine updates based on previously reviewed methods require less review than novel methods or data. If formal peer review is not practicable due to time or resource constraints, the development and analysis of scientific information used in or in support of fishery management actions should be as transparent as possible, in accordance with paragraph (a)(6)(iv) of this section. Other applicable guidance on peer review can be found in the Office of Management and Budget Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.
(b) Peer review process. The Secretary and each Council may establish a peer review process for that Council for scientific information used to advise about the conservation and management of the fishery. 16 U.S.C. 1852(g)(1)(E). A peer review process is not a substitute for an SSC and should work in conjunction with the SSC (see § 600.310(b)(2)(v)(C)). This section provides guidance and standards that should be followed in order to establish a peer review process per Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(E).
(1) The objective or scope of the peer review, the nature of the scientific information to be reviewed, and timing of the review should be considered when selecting the type of peer review to be used. The process established by the Secretary and Council should focus on providing review for information that has not yet undergone rigorous peer review, but that must be peer reviewed in order to provide reliable, high quality scientific advice for fishery conservation and management. Duplication of previously conducted peer review should be avoided.
(i) Form of process. The peer review process may include or consist of existing Council committees or panels if they meet the standards identified herein. The Secretary and Council have discretion to determine the appropriate peer review process for a specific information product. A peer review can take many forms, including individual letter or written reviews and panel reviews.
(ii) Timing. The peer review should, to the extent practicable, be conducted early in the process of producing scientific information or a work product, so peer review reports are available for the SSC to consider in its evaluation of scientific information for its Council and the Secretary. The timing will depend in part on the scope of the review. For instance, the peer review of a new or novel method or model should be conducted before there is an investment of time and resources in implementing the model and interpreting the results. The results of this type of peer review may contribute to improvements in the model or assessment.
(iii) Scope of work. The scope of work or charge (sometimes called the terms of reference) of any peer review should be determined in advance of the selection of reviewers. The scope of work contains the objectives of the peer review, evaluation of the various stages of the science, and specific recommendations for improvement of the science. The scope of work should be carefully designed, with specific technical questions to guide the peer review process; it should ask peer reviewers to ensure that scientific uncertainties are clearly identified and characterized, it should allow peer reviewers the opportunity to offer a broad evaluation of the overall scientific or technical product under review, as well as to make recommendations regarding areas of missing information, future research, data collection, and improvements in methodologies, and it must not change during the course of the peer review. The scope of work may not request reviewers to provide advice on policy or regulatory issues (e.g., amount of precaution used in decision-making) which are within the purview of the Secretary and the Councils, or to make formal fishing level recommendations which are within the purview of the SSC.
(2) Peer reviewer selection. The selection of participants in a peer review should be based on expertise, independence, and a balance of viewpoints, and be free of conflicts of interest.
(i) Expertise and balance. Peer reviewers must be selected based on scientific expertise and experience relevant to the disciplines of subject matter to be reviewed. The group of reviewers that constitute the peer review should reflect a balance in perspectives, to the extent practicable, and should have sufficiently broad and diverse expertise to represent the range of relevant scientific and technical perspectives to complete the objectives of the peer review.
(ii) Conflict of interest. Peer reviewers who are federal employees must comply with all applicable federal ethics requirements. Potential reviewers who are not federal employees must be screened for conflicts of interest in accordance with the NOAA Policy on Conflicts of Interest for Peer Review Subject to OMB's Peer Review Bulletin or other applicable rules or guidelines.
(A) Under the NOAA policy, peer reviewers must not have any conflicts of interest with the scientific information, subject matter, or work product under review, or any aspect of the statement of work for the peer review. For purposes of this section, a conflict of interest is any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual on a review panel because it: could significantly impair the reviewer's objectivity, or could create an unfair competitive advantage for a person or organization.
(B) No individual can be appointed to a review panel if that individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed. For reviews requiring highly specialized expertise, the limited availability of qualified reviewers might result in an exception when a conflict of interest is unavoidable; in this situation, the conflict must be promptly and publicly disclosed. Conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to, the personal financial interests and investments, employer affiliations, and consulting arrangements, grants, or contracts of the individual and of others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests, if these interests are relevant to the functions to be performed.
(iii) Independence. Peer reviewers must not have contributed or participated in the development of the work product or scientific information under review. For peer review of products of higher novelty or controversy, a greater degree of independence is necessary to ensure credibility of the peer review process. Peer reviewer responsibilities should rotate across the available pool of qualified reviewers or among the members on a standing peer review panel to prevent a peer reviewer from repeatedly reviewing the same scientific information, recognizing that, in some cases, repeated service by the same reviewer may be needed because of limited availability of specialized expertise.
(3) Transparency. A transparent process is one that ensures that background documents and reports from peer review are publicly available, subject to Magnuson-Stevens Act confidentiality requirements, and allows the public full and open access to peer review panel meetings. The evaluation and review of scientific information by the Councils, SSCs or advisory panels must be conducted in accordance with meeting procedures at § 600.135. Consistent with that section, public notice of peer review panel meetings should be announced in the Federal Register with a minimum of 14 days and with an aim of 21 days before the review to allow public comments during meetings. Background documents should be available for public review in a timely manner prior to meetings. Peer review reports describing the scope and objectives of the review, findings in accordance with each objective, and conclusions should be publicly available. Names and organizational affiliations of reviewers also should be publicly available.
(4) Publication of the peer review process. The Secretary will announce the establishment of a peer review process under Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(E) in the Federal Register along with a brief description of the process. In addition, detailed information on such processes will be made publicly available on the Council's Web site, and updated as necessary.
(c) SSC scientific evaluation and advice to the Council. Each scientific and statistical committee shall provide its Council ongoing scientific advice for fishery management decisions, including recommendations for acceptable biological catch, preventing overfishing, maximum sustainable yield, achieving rebuilding targets, and reports on stock status and health, bycatch, habitat status, social and economic impacts of management measures, and sustainability of fishing practices. 16 U.S.C. 1852(g)(1)(B).
(1) SSC scientific advice and recommendations to its Council are based on scientific information that the SSC determines to meet the guidelines for best scientific information available as described in paragraph (a) of this section. SSCs may conduct peer reviews or evaluate peer reviews to provide clear scientific advice to the Council. Such scientific advice should attempt to resolve conflicting scientific information, so that the Council will not need to engage in debate on technical merits. Debate and evaluation of scientific information is the role of the SSC.
(2) An SSC member may participate in a peer review when such participation is beneficial to the peer review due to the expertise and institutional memory of that member, or beneficial to the Council's advisory body by allowing that member to make a more informed evaluation of the scientific information. Participation of an SSC member in a peer review should not impair the ability of that member to fulfill his or her responsibilities to the SSC.
(3) If an SSC as a body conducts a peer review established under Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(E) or individual members of an SSC participate in such a peer review, the SSC members must meet the peer reviewer selection criteria as described in paragraph (b)(2) of this section. In addition, the financial disclosure requirements under § 600.235, Financial Disclosure for Councils and Council committees, apply. When the SSC as a body is conducting a peer review, it should strive for consensus and must meet the transparency guidelines under paragraphs (a)(6)(iv) and (b)(3) of this section. If consensus cannot be reached, minority viewpoints should be recorded.
(4) The SSC's evaluation of a peer review conducted by a body other than the SSC should consider the extent and quality of peer review that has already taken place. For Councils with extensive and detailed peer review processes (e.g., a process established pursuant to Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(E)), the evaluation by the SSC of the peer reviewed information should not repeat the previously conducted and detailed technical peer review. However, SSCs must maintain their role as advisors to the Council about scientific information that comes from a peer review process. Therefore, the peer review of scientific information used to advise the Council, including a peer review process established by the Secretary and the Council under Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(E), should be conducted early in the scientific evaluation process in order to provide the SSC with reasonable opportunity to consider the peer review report and make recommendations to the Council as required under Magnuson-Stevens Act section 302(g)(1)(B).
(5) If an SSC disagrees with the findings or conclusions of a peer review, in whole or in part, the SSC must prepare a report outlining the areas of disagreement, and the rationale and information used by the SSC for making its determination. This report must be made publicly available.
(6) Annual catch limits (ACLs) developed by a Council may not exceed its SSC's fishing level recommendations. 16 U.S.C. 1852(h)(6). Per the National Standard 1 Guidelines, the SSC fishing level recommendation that is most relevant to ACLs is acceptable biological catch (ABC), as both ACL and ABC are levels of annual catch (see § 600.310(b)(2)(v)(D)). The SSC is expected to take scientific uncertainty into account when making its ABC recommendation (§ 600.310(f)(4)). The ABC recommendation may be based upon input and recommendations from the peer review process. Any such peer review related to such recommendations should be conducted early in the process as described in paragraph (c)(4) of this section. The SSC should resolve differences between its recommendations and any relevant peer review recommendations per paragraph (c)(5) of this section.
(d) SAFE Report. The term SAFE (Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation) report, as used in this section, refers to a public document or a set of related public documents, that provides the Secretary and the Councils with a summary of scientific information concerning the most recent biological condition of stocks, stock complexes, and marine ecosystems in the fishery management unit (FMU), essential fish habitat (EFH), and the social and economic condition of the recreational and commercial fishing interests, fishing communities, and the fish processing industries. Each SAFE report must be scientifically based with appropriate citations of data sources and information. Each SAFE report summarizes, on a periodic basis, the best scientific information available concerning the past, present, and possible future condition of the stocks, EFH, marine ecosystems, and fisheries being managed under Federal regulation.
(1) The Secretary has the responsibility to ensure that SAFE reports are prepared and updated or supplemented as necessary whenever new information is available to inform management decisions such as status determination criteria (SDC), overfishing level (OFL), optimum yield, or ABC values (§ 600.310(c)). The SAFE report and any comments or reports from the SSC must be available to the Secretary and Council for making management decisions for each FMP to ensure that the best scientific information available is being used. The Secretary or Councils may utilize any combination of personnel from Council, State, Federal, university, or other sources to acquire and analyze data and produce the SAFE report.
(2) The SAFE report provides information to the Councils and the Secretary for determining annual catch limits (§ 600.310(f)(5)) for each stock in the fishery; documenting significant trends or changes in the resource, marine ecosystems, and fishery over time; implementing required EFH provisions (§ 600.815(a)(10)); and assessing the relative success of existing relevant state and Federal fishery management programs. The SAFE report should contain an explanation of information gaps and highlight needs for future scientific work. Information on bycatch and safety for each fishery should also be summarized. In addition, the SAFE report may be used to update or expand previous environmental and regulatory impact documents and ecosystem descriptions.
(3) Each SAFE report should contain the following scientific information when it exists:
(i) Information on which to base catch specifications and status determinations, including the most recent stock assessment documents and associated peer review reports, and recommendations and reports from the Council's SSC.
(A) A description of the SDC (e.g., maximum fishing mortality rate threshold and minimum stock size threshold for each stock or stock complex in the fishery) (§ 600.310(e)(2)).
(B) Information on OFL and ABC, preventing overfishing, and achieving rebuilding targets. Documentation of the data collection, estimation methods, and consideration of uncertainty in formulating catch specification recommendations should be included (§ 600.310(f)(2)). The best scientific information available to determine whether overfishing is occurring with respect to any stock or stock complex, whether any stock or stock complex is overfished, whether the rate or level of fishing mortality applied to any stock or stock complex is approaching the maximum fishing mortality threshold, and whether the size of any stock or stock complex is approaching the minimum stock size threshold; and
(C) The best scientific information available in support of management measures necessary to rebuild an overfished stock or stock complex (if any) in the fishery to a level consistent with producing the MSY in that fishery.
(ii) Information on sources of fishing mortality (both landed and discarded), including commercial and recreational catch and bycatch in other fisheries and a description of data collection and estimation methods used to quantify total catch mortality, as required by the National Standard 1 Guidelines (§ 600.310(i)).
(iii) Information on bycatch of non-target species for each fishery.
(iv) Information on EFH to be included in accordance with the EFH provisions (§ 600.815(a)(10)) .
(v) Pertinent economic, social, community, and ecological information for assessing the success and impacts of management measures or the achievement of objectives of each FMP.
(4) Transparency in the fishery management process is enhanced by complementing the SAFE report with the documentation of previous management actions taken by the Council or Secretary including a summary of the previous ACLs, ACTs, and accountability measures (AMs), and assessment of management uncertainty.
(5) To facilitate the use of the information in the SAFE report, and its availability to the Council, NMFS, and the public:
(i) The SAFE report should contain, or be supplemented by, a summary of the information and an index or table of contents to the components of the report. Sources of information in the SAFE report should be referenced, unless the information is proprietary.
(ii) The SAFE report or compilation of documents that comprise the SAFE report and index must be made available by the Council or NMFS on a readily accessible Web site.
(e) FMP development.
(1) FMPs must take into account the best scientific information available at the time of preparation. Between the initial drafting of an FMP and its submission for final review, new information often becomes available. This new information should be incorporated into the final FMP where practicable; but it is unnecessary to start the FMP process over again, unless the information indicates that drastic changes have occurred in the fishery that might require revision of the management objectives or measures.
(3) An FMP must specify whatever information fishermen and processors will be required or requested to submit to the Secretary. Information about harvest within state waters, as well as in the EEZ, may be collected if it is needed for proper implementation of the FMP and cannot be obtained otherwise. Scientific information collections for stocks managed cooperatively by Federal and State governments should be coordinated with the appropriate state jurisdictions, to the extent practicable, to ensure harvest information is available for the management of stocks that utilize habitats in state and federal managed waters. The FMP should explain the practical utility of the information specified in monitoring the fishery, in facilitating inseason management decisions, and in judging the performance of the management regime; it should also consider the effort, cost, or social impact of obtaining it.
(4) An FMP should identify scientific information needed from other sources to improve understanding and management of the resource, marine ecosystem, the fishery, and fishing communities.
(5) The information submitted by various data suppliers should be comparable and compatible, to the maximum extent possible.
(6) FMPs should be amended on a timely basis, as new information indicates the necessity for change in objectives or management measures consistent with the conditions described in paragraph (d) of this section (SAFE reports). Paragraphs (e)(1) through (5) of this section apply equally to FMPs and FMP amendments.
[78 FR 43086, July 19, 2013]