ICES - complexity in science and advice
reportposted on 2022-03-01, 08:56 authored by J. C. Rice
The founders of ICES wanted to explain why certain fish stocks varied as they did; why cod or herring fisheries could be so productive at some times, and so poor at others. They posed research questions as ambitious as knowledge of the day allowed; many are still not fully answered. They planned and implemented projects that were likewise visionary for the time; some of the data collection schemes they developed are still worth maintaining. The fact that we have not answered the first research questions set by the founders has not impeded our scientific drive to pose ever more challenging questions, requiring ever more ambitious and costly research projects. By the 1980s, the Multispecies Assessment Working Group was trying to combine many single-species assessments into a dynamic, interacting unit, apparently believing that by linking the variability among species we had somehow explained it. Not satisfied to just create such a marine stew, we have tried in the present decade, to make ocean circulation stir the stew and ocean climate vary its temperature as well. Not only have scientists within ICES convinced each other that we are capable of pursuing ever larger and more complex research projects, we have convinced governments and management agencies that our conclusions are worth listening to. Done informally for a long period, this advisory role, in latter decades, became formalized, bifurcated, and tried to generate wealth. I will sketch how these trends to increased complexity in both ICES research and ICES advice have accelerated in recent years. Correspondingly, I will present trends in some indices of the status of the marine ecosystems which have been objects of ICES research and subjects of ICES advice. Forecasts of how much more complex our research and our advisory actions can become will be tempered with conjectures on how much more complexity on our part can be tolerated by those ecosystems.