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It’s all in the numbers

As a society we are obsessed with numbers. There are have phone numbers, social security numbers, number for our house, license plate number and age among others. These numbers all give us a place to measure from. It is the same in the biological sciences. Biologists need to know where something is before they can tell where it is going. All science is based on having a starting point to measure from. Every now and then we all take a look backward with longing at what we remember as a better time. Back then we were younger there were not so many regulations and fish just jumped right into the boat or so my father told me. The water was pure, air clean and the sea held all the fish that anyone could want – all there for the taking. Since it is impossible to attach numbers to myth or feelings surveys are needed to determine the health of the environment and fish stocks.Marine scientists spend an inordinate amount of their professional lives collecting data on marine species in order to manage them. Surveys are used to sample fish in order to obtain this data, which includes number and weight of the catch from recreational and commercial fishermen. Fish are measured and body parts like otoliths (ear stones) removed for age analysis. Other surveys are done to sample juveniles to determine how many fish were born in a given year. Aircraft are flow over the fishing area and boats with actively fishing anglers counted. Monitoring has gone high-tech with satellite monitoring equipment required on certain commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. When anglers are interviewed they are asked, among other things, how long they fished, where they fished and what gear they used.All of the data are put together and analyzed generating reports called stock assessments. As part of these reports the analysts make recommendations for future fishing regulations to preserve the stock of fish and to prevent collapse of the fishery. These regulations can involve a decrease in the numbers you are allowed to catch, increase in the length limit and decrease in the fishing season.When you are interviewed by survey personnel it may seem like you are giving them the rope to hang you with but you are not. Without adequate data the regulations will err on the conservative side, which will make them harsher. So, if a person comes up to you and asks you for information about your fishing trip it is in your, and the fishes’, best interest to provide the information requested. The numbers tell it all. Think global, act local.

Think Global – Act Local!


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