The National Research Council (NRC) presented their preliminary findings of a study to improve recreational data collection to fisheries managers and members of the recreational fishing community in Arlington, Virginia this past week. The major findings of the report were that the main recreational data collection tool, the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (MRFSS), for sampling the universe of anglers and determining their catch and effort is inadequate for management and policy decisions. They found the design, sampling techniques and collection fatally flawed, failing to use current survey sampling theory or taking the human dimension of fishing into consideration. These findings promoted a recommendation for a complete redesign of the program on behalf of the NRC.
"The recreational fishing community has been saying MRFSS is broken for over a decade," states Jim Donofrio. "The findings of the NRC report outline ways to improve the current system that we have been advocating for years."
This is not the first time that MRFSS has been critically reviewed. In fact, a minimum of 4 studies have evaluated recreational data collection programs in recent years, including two NRC reports issued in 2000 and 2002, both of which include ways to make improvements. Since that time, nothing has been done to significantly improve MRFSS or the estimates it produces. Even with the erroneous 2003 New York summer flounder estimates and the 2005 NY and NJ weakfish numbers, NMFS defended MRFSS and the status quo in favor of listening to anglers and industry members who testified that these numbers simply can't be true.
"Fishermen have been spending their own time and money attending meetings to testify against estimates they know to be counter to what actually happened on the water only to have managers dismiss them. This report validates their statements.
The RFA is encouraged by the NRC findings and will hold NMFS feet to the fire to see these changes carried out. During the two years this study was being conducted, RFA among other fishing groups gave testimony and suggestions of which much is included in the final report. The final report is due out the first week in April but a summary of this report can be viewed at /files/pdf/201105/11616.pdf.