Interpretation of data used in fisheries assessment and management requires knowledge of population (e.g. growth, natural mortality, and recruitment), fisheries (e.g. selectivity), and sampling processes. Without this knowledge, assumptions need to be made, either implicitly or explicitly based on the methods used. Incorrect assumptions can have a substantial impact on stock assessment results and management advice. Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding of these processes for most, if not all, stocks and even for processes that have traditionally been assumed to be well understood (e.g. growth and selectivity). We use information content of typical fisheries data that is informative about absolute abundance to illustrate some of the main issues in fisheries stock assessment. We concentrate on information about absolute abundance from indices of relative abundance combined with catch, and age and length-composition data and how the information depends on knowledge of population, fishing, and sampling processes. We also illustrate two recently developed diagnostic methods that can be used to evaluate the absolute abundance information content of the data. Finally, we discuss some of the reasons for the slowness of progress in fisheries stock assessment.