Using experiments and expert judgment to model catchability of Pacific rockfishes in trawl surveys, with application to bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis) off British Columbia


McAllister, Murdoch K., Richard D. Stanley, and Paul Starr
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The time series of abundance indices for many groundfish populations, as determined from trawl surveys, are often imprecise and short, causing stock assessment estimates of abundance to be imprecise. To improve precision, prior probability distributions (priors) have been developed for parameters in stock assessment models by using meta-analysis, expert judgment on catchability, and empirically based modeling. This article presents a synthetic approach for formulating priors for rockfish trawl survey catchability (qgross). A multivariate prior for qgross for different surveys is formulated by using 1) a correction factor for bias in estimating fish density between trawlable and untrawlable areas, 2) expert judgment on trawl net catchability, 3) observations from trawl survey experiments, and 4) data on the fraction of population biomass in each of the areas surveyed. The method is illustrated by using bocaccio (Sebastes paucipinis) in British Columbia. Results indicate that expert judgment can be updated markedly by observing the catch-rate ratio from different trawl gears in the same areas. The marginal priors for qgross are consistent with empirical estimates obtained by fitting a stock assessment model to the survey data under a noninformative prior for qgross. Despite high prior uncertainty (prior coefficients of variation ≥0.8) and high prior correlation between qgross, the prior for qgross still enhances the precision of key stock assessment quantities.