It’s not easy counting fish. Just ask the people who have to do it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division is responsible for estimating the health and size of dozens of fish stocks in U.S. waters, measurements that help eight regional councils determine which fish commercial and recreational anglers are allowed to catch.

The accuracy of NOAA's counts is at the heart of a national debate over whether to loosen current catch limits.

NOAA defends the data, obtained through a combination of sampling methods and statistical models. But recreational fishermen and their backers on Capitol Hill, who want to loosen the catch limits, claim they're based on “flawed science.”

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