NOAA: New Recreational Fishing Estimates Comprise a Major First Step

NOAA has published a fact sheet, video and a side-by-side comparison of estimates

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday an improved statistical process for determining the recreational catch of saltwater fish. Using this new method, NOAA recalculated catch data (from dockside and phone surveys) going back to 2004. The resulting updated catch rates — some higher, some lower and some about the same — will ensure more accuracy in building stock assessments and managing recreational fishing, NOAA says.

“We’ll be working with the regional fishery management councils, the states [and others] to integrate the results into management,” Eric Schwaab, acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management, said in a press conference. How much effect the new numbers have on assessments or total allowable catch and whether they result in regulation changes will be up to the councils and their committees, Schwaab said.

NOAA has published a fact sheet, video and a side-by-side comparison of estimates compiled with the previous method versus the revised method on its website for the Marine Recreational Information Program, www.countmyfish.noaa.gov.

In one case study on Gulf of Mexico red snapper, NOAA says its new estimates show there were nearly 3 million more red snapper recreationally caught on the west coast of Florida between 2004 and 2010 than previously thought. Why such discrepancy? Because the old process weighted dockside surveys from high-activity sites and low-activity sites the same. In looking back at the statistics, however, researchers saw that more surveys occurred at high-activity sites. Oddly enough, catch rates were lower at those sites. That caused the estimate of total catch to be too low.

The key takeaway, the fact sheet states, is that the new estimates are more accurate because untested assumptions from the original estimates have been removed through a rigorous, peer-reviewed process. That process started in 2007 after Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens act and the National Research Council reported the findings of its study of NOAA’s survey practices.

With the new estimates, NOAA will move forward over the next year to 18 months to implement other parts of its strategy for improving recreational fishing data. NOAA is currently evaluating: using the National Saltwater Angler Registry to better connect with fishermen; conducting more frequent surveys and providing quicker updates; expanding sampling times and locations, and electronic reporting from the for-hire sector.

“The ways in which the survey data are turned into specific estimates had to be fixed first,” Schwaab said. “This is the foundational improvement around which others will be built.”