NOAA Fisheries-sponsored personnel began training in April to gather “uncollected data” on fish in the CNMI, and now the actual work should start this May, according to Department of Land and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Seman.
The target approach for this work is collecting data on seasonal run fish species like the atulai, big eye scad or manahok, and rabbit fish, he said.
These species have never been concentrated on specifically and have always been generalized in reports.
“It ruins your data because you are reporting [for example] 5,000 lbs of atulai. That really throws off your data because the one species dominates and the next 11 months—nothing.”
How their data method used to be was “whatever is covered during their shift that’s what’s covered” for the year, according to Seman.
He said the CNMI has a system in place in how often to collect data. But oftentimes that system may be affected by government rules and policy relating to work hours.
“At times, we don’t have enough funding to cover overtime, or night differential, where they can do night work on a regular basis. We can only do work certain times each month, and when you don’t do it every time that gives you the data gap,” Seman said.
“Some of the strategies NOAA wants to do in the CNMI is identify those gaps and hire people specifically to work around those gaps—where they are more flexible and they are not restricted to personnel because they will not be CNMI government employees. In the CNMI, it’s a new idea in how we cover or how we collect some of the data that were never collected,” he said
Better data means a better annual catch limit, or ACL, he said, which is federally administered.
“In order for us to get a grasp of what our limits should be we should cover every angle possible to provide us a determination of whatever has been landed. If you don’t count those [fish] that you don’t find, or you’ve never covered, then you are losing those catches as part of your overall volume. You are shortchanging yourself on your overall ACL.
“The whole purpose behind the ACL is to prevent overfishing, “he said.