Recreational-Fishing Data Collection Is Getting Better

How the Marine Recreational Information Program is improving to better manage coastal and offshore fisheries.

O P I N I O N

NOAA surveyor collects recreational-fishing data
Working with the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, NOAA has improved methods for data collection, including dockside surveys.Courtesy Nicole Bartlett, NOAA

Effective fisheries management relies on knowing what’s happening on the water, including how often anglers fish, when and where, and what they catch, keep, and release. That information comes directly from anglers and captains, and we’re committed to making the data collection process as understandable and transparent as possible.

Getting these numbers right is so important because recreational fishing has such a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. Not only is it part of our cultural heritage, it is also a vital part of our economy. According to the most recent release of the Fisheries Economics of the United States, in 2014 alone, anglers spent $4.9 billion on trips and another $28 billion on everything from rods and reels to fishing boats; they also supported approximately 439,000 jobs.

Accurately estimating the activities of millions of anglers is a complex challenge, but it provides key information for scientists and managers to help assess and maintain healthy fish stocks. In 2004, NOAA Fisheries requested the National Academies of Sciences —the nation's premier source of independent, expert advice on scientific, engineering, and medical issues—to review our saltwater recreational information collection efforts. Based on their recommendations, the agency established the Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP. Working as a regional, state, and federal partnership, MRIP collaboratively develops, improves, and conducts surveys of anglers to measure their saltwater trips and catch.

Over the years, the MRIP team has significantly improved its survey designs, and the way it works with a broad array of partners and stakeholders, including fishermen, state resource agencies, and regional fishery councils and commissions.

Survey of recreational angler by NOAA Fisheries
Could this angler have provided his own data via cell phone? Not yet, but NOAA is working to see how catch reporting by smartphone app could improve the data-collection process.Courtesy NOAA

NOAA Fisheries again commissioned the National Academies of Sciences to conduct another independent review of our recreational fishing data collection efforts. The agency requested this follow-up review to measure progress made toward implementing recommendations from the Academies' 2006 report. In a new, comprehensive report released in January this year, the NAS recognized MRIP for making "impressive progress," including "major improvements" to survey designs.

The recent NAS report confirms that MRIP’s base surveys are statistically sound. The NAS also commended MRIP for establishing a national registry of saltwater anglers which uses angler-provided license and registration information as one way to contact them. That change, coupled with a shift away from randomly calling coastal households to estimate fishing effort, has improved how we measure the number of angler fishing trips. The NAS reviewers also commended changes to our dockside surveys, including that we now sample night trips.

Additionally, NAS provided important recommendations for fine-tuning methods, and for future directions in recreational data collection efforts, such as enhancing timeliness, geographic coverage, improved precision, and more detailed information on particular species.

Many anglers would like to supply their own fishing data via cell phones. While that’s not as easy as it sounds, MRIP will continue to develop and test supplemental survey designs, including catch reporting by smartphone apps - which may be able to provide statistically valid data that helps improve our understanding of recreational catch.

While we may never be able to count what every angler catches on every trip, the new findings of the NAS show that by working together, fishermen, scientists, and managers can make significant strides toward supporting sustainable fisheries—and the millions of lives and livelihoods connected to recreational saltwater fishing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Angers is the President for the Center for Sportfishing Policy, an organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational-fishing industry.Courtesy CSP

About the Author

Dr. Ned Cyr directs NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Science & Technology and chairs the MRIP Executive Steering Committee.

Sport Fishing welcomes opportunities to share a variety of perspectives from prominent or influential participants in issues related to recreational fishing and fisheries.