BOSTON — What science says about the number of fish in the waters off New England shapes the rules that govern the region's struggling fishing fleet. And lately for key species, those estimates have been way off.
Some federal population estimates for bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod and flounder, have swung wildly. That leaves fishermen scrambling to deal with sudden drops or gains in the portfolio of stocks they depend on to make a living. In addition, a pattern has emerged showing the same bad predictions about key fish species are repeated.
Some question how population estimates with such obvious flaws can be used to as a basis for steep cuts in the catches, including massive reductions enacted in May.
"I think it's irresponsible to shut down fisheries based on such inaccurate stock assessments," said Steve Cadrin, a former federal stock assessment scientist and a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.