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Impacts of prior mis-specification on Bayesian fisheries stock assessment

Chen, Yong, Sun, Chi-Lu, Kanaiwa, Minoru
Marine & freshwater research 2008 v.59 no.2 pp. 145-156
ecosystems, fisheries, normal distribution, uncertainty, Maine
One of the key features of a Bayesian stock assessment is that the modeller needs to provide knowledge on model parameters. Priors summarise modellers' understanding of model parameters and are often defined by a probability distribution function. Priors are often mis-specified with arbitrary and unrealistic accuracy and precision in perceiving the state of nature for the parameters as a result of our limited understanding of fisheries ecosystems. Commonly used probability functions such as normal distribution functions tend to be sensitive to prior mis-specification, resulting in large uncertainty and/or errors in Bayesian stock assessment. Fat-tailed functions such as the Cauchy distribution function have been found to be robust to prior mis-specification. Using the Maine sea urchin fishery as an example, we evaluated the impacts of mis-specification in defining the prior distributions on Bayesian stock assessment. The present study suggests that the quantification of priors with a Cauchy distribution tends to be robust to the prior mis-specification. Given our limited understanding of fisheries a function such as the Cauchy distribution function that is robust to prior mis-specification tends to be more desirable. Future studies should explore the use of other fat-tailed distribution functions for quantifying priors in fisheries stock assessment.