Estimating uncertainty in fish stock assessment and forecasting

Patterson, Kenneth and Cook, Robin and Darby, Chris and Gavaris, Stratis and Kell, Laurence and Lewy, Peter and Mesnil, Benoît and Punt, André and Restrepo, Victor and Skagen, Dankert W. and Stefánsson, Gunnar (2001) Estimating uncertainty in fish stock assessment and forecasting. Fish and Fisheries, 2 (2). pp. 125-157. ISSN 1467-2979 (

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A variety of tools are available to quantify uncertainty in age-structured fish stock assessments and in management forecasts. These tools are based on particular choices for the underlying population dynamics model, the aspects of the assessment considered uncertain, and the approach for assessing uncertainty (Bayes, frequentist or likelihood). The current state of the art is advancing rapidly as a consequence of the availability of increased computational power, but there remains little consistency in the choices made for assessments and forecasts. This can be explained by several factors including the specifics of the species under consideration, the purpose for which the analysis is conducted and the institutional framework within which the methods are developed and used, including the availability and customary usage of software tools. Little testing of either the methods or their assumptions has yet been done. Thus, it is not possible to argue either that the methods perform well or perform poorly or that any particular conditioning choices are more appropriate in general terms than others. Despite much recent progress, fisheries science has yet to identify a means for identifying appropriate conditioning choices such that the probability distributions which are calculated for management purposes do adequately represent the probabilities of eventual real outcomes. Therefore, we conclude that increased focus should be placed on testing and carefully examining the choices made when conducting these analyses, and that more attention must be given to examining the sensitivity to alternative assumptions and model structures. Provision of advice concerning uncertainty in stock assessments should include consideration of such sensitivities, and should use model-averaging methods, decision tables or management procedure simulations in cases where advice is strongly sensitive to model assumptions.