The availability of up-to-date information for managing marine resources is limited worldwide. In California, lack of data is hindering the execution and evaluation of two recent state laws, the Marine Life Management Act and the Marine Life Protection Act. The inability to meet the objectives of these laws is particularly acute for large cryptic benthic species (e.g., crabs, lobster, and prawns) that support valuable trap fisheries. Such species are not readily quantified by conventional methods and thus are not usually included in existing monitoring efforts. We explored the integration of data collection with ongoing commercial crab fishing activities to address this information gap and developed sampling regimes that provided accurate estimates of at-sea catches that could show the status of crab populations. Crab catches sampled in port represented only a subset of the catch at sea owing to selective harvesting of the catch (i.e., sorting) and thus would be a poor estimator of wild stocks. We developed a framework for addressing data accuracy and validity, data management and sharing, incentives, compensation, and long-term funding. Our findings suggest that data collection programs in which fishermen, managers, and scientists collaboratively design, collect, and analyze data are well suited for trap fisheries, particularly those that include multiple species or practice high rates of selectivity. The resulting recommendations for ensuring that the process is transparent and that the data are accurate and integrated into management include having (1) well-defined goals and appropriate, scientifically sound data collection methods, (2) hands-on training for participants, (3) validation of the collected data, (4) well-defined procedures for handling confidential data, (5) an adequate funding source, and (6) timely and consistent reviews of the data with subsequent actions as needed. This program offers a sound solution for obtaining comprehensive fishery information in a more cost-effective manner than is currently available.
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