What is the Marine Recreational Information Program?
NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information Program is a state-regional-federal partnership that conducts a national network of large-scale surveys of the saltwater recreational fishing community to estimate recreational fishing catch and effort information used in fisheries stock assessments. Recreational data collected from these surveys, alongside separate commercial, biological (age, growth, reproduction), and observer data, help inform assessments and management decisions that aim to achieve sustainable fisheries for future generations.
In addition to survey implementation and producing catch and effort estimates, NOAA Fisheries helps states and regional partners meet their unique regional recreational fishing data needs. This includes access to technical resources; expert statistical assistance and guidance; funding for regionally identified recreational fishing data collection priorities; and supporting the development, certification, and implementation of state-led data collection programs.
How do you measure recreational fishing activity?
We administer four large-scale recreational fishing surveys, which are used to estimate recreational catch and effort along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in Hawaii:
- The Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS), Fishing Effort Survey (FES), and For-Hire Survey (FHS) are used to estimate recreational catch and effort from private anglers and for-hire captains.
- The specialized Large Pelagics Survey (LPS) is used to estimate recreational catch and effort for large pelagic or highly migratory species in the Greater Atlantic, such as tuna, sharks, billfish, swordfish, mahi, wahoo, and other offshore species.
Each data collection program gathers different types of information about recreational fishing activity. Taken together, these complementary programs provide a more complete picture of what anglers are catching and how often they’re fishing.
Generally speaking, we measure catch rate—or the average number of fish caught per angler trip—through in-person interviews (APAIS) conducted by our state partners dockside and at other public-access sites. We measure effort—or the number of fishing trips taken—through mail and telephone surveys. The FES mail survey estimates effort for private boat and shore fishing modes, and the FHS telephone survey estimates effort for the for-hire community. In some regions, electronic trip reports collect supplemental information about for-hire fishing activity.
Our recreational fishing catch and effort estimation methods involve many data types and models. Generally, we multiply catch rate by fishing effort to estimate total recreational catch. We “weigh” survey responses carefully so an individual is able to represent themselves and the broader population we aren’t able to collect information from. This way, we can draw reasonable conclusions about the entire recreational fishing community.
We also work with states along the Gulf and West coasts to provide requested technical guidance and funding to certify and implement state-led surveys that are intended to produce more timely and precise estimates at the regional level for certain high-profile species.
How do you determine the accuracy of your estimates?
Our staff practice quality assurance and control measures before our estimates are published. We check for errors in data entry and investigate any unusual changes in catch and effort trends. We also involve NOAA Fisheries’ regional offices and science centers, who have local on-the-ground knowledge, in the review of preliminary estimates before they are published.
If we detect a potential outlier (a very high or low estimate), we try to determine the reason. We examine the data for sample size concerns, interviews that seem non-representative of the fishing community, differences in interview frequency between open and closed seasons during a 2-month wave, and other factors. We collaborate with our affected regional offices, science centers, and state partners to further investigate and compare notes on potential contributing factors or errors. Sometimes the reason is truly unknown, and that uncertainty is considered during assessment and management.
As part of our commitment to data quality and transparency, our catch and effort estimates are accompanied by a measure of precision. The higher an estimate’s Percent Standard Error, or PSE, the larger the margin of error and uncertainty around the estimate. MRIP cautions use of the estimate in fisheries management when the PSE is over 30 and does not support use of the estimate when the PSE exceeds 50.
We continue to evaluate and incorporate improvements to our estimation processes as well as our estimate review process. We are working closely with the Atlantic and Gulf States Marine Fisheries commissions to conduct estimate review workshop(s) to strengthen the estimate review process and improve coordination. We are continuing collaborative work on alternative estimation approaches for data gaps caused by imprecise and outlier catch and effort estimates.
Why should I participate in these surveys?
Sustainable fishing is a shared responsibility, and it starts with information from our recreational fishing community. Anglers are our eyes and ears on the water, and the central source of the information we use to estimate recreational fishing activity. Taking a few minutes to share information about your fishing trip is one of the most important contributions you can make for the successful conservation and management of our marine fisheries resources.
Given the dynamic nature of recreational fishing and the magnitude of fishing activity across our survey area, it would be very challenging to conduct a complete census of all catch and fishing trips taken. Therefore, we survey a representative sample through our various large-scale surveys, which allows us to draw reasonable conclusions about the full recreational fishing community. This is why it’s critical to receive complete information from those we survey to aid in the quality of the catch and effort estimates we produce.
How do these catch and effort estimates impact fishing regulations?
Our largescale recreational fishing surveys produce year-to-year and long-term recreational fishing trends (patterns in fishing activity) covering many species. These estimates are an important source of consistent catch information for monitoring and assessing U.S. fish stocks.
Our estimates are combined with commercial catch data, biological research, and information gathered from direct observations of fisheries to help scientists assess stock size and sustainable harvest levels. Fisheries managers use this information to set regulations that promote the long-term health of fish populations.
How do you keep survey methods up-to-date?
We are committed to providing quality recreational fishing catch and effort estimates through the continual evaluation and improvement of our recreational fishing surveys.
Our Research and Evaluation Team facilitates peer reviews of our survey methods and conducts survey research and pilot studies to identify and evaluate potential improvements.
For example, NOAA Fisheries is conducting a comprehensive year-long study of our recreational Fishing Effort Survey to improve respondent accuracy and produce more frequent estimates of recreational fishing effort. A revised FES design will be administered alongside the current FES throughout all of 2024 to compare estimates produced from both.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has undertaken several in-depth, independent reviews of the program. We have commissioned numerous studies and program initiatives to address their recommendations and are providing Congress with update reports every two years.
We work to minimize potential disruptions to the stock assessment and fisheries management process to the greatest extent possible when implementing survey improvements. To effectively transition to new or improved survey designs, NOAA Fisheries has established a process to enable a continuous, uninterrupted time series of recreational catch and effort estimates. This includes calibration, which rescales historical estimates produced from the previous design into the scale of the new design, so meaningful comparisons in fishing activity can be made.
How are you supporting electronic reporting and the use of apps?
NOAA Fisheries fully supports the appropriate use and advancement of electronic technologies to complement or improve fisheries dependent data collection programs. Several of our state and regional partners use electronic logbooks to collect data from for-hire vessels. In addition, we have certified designs of Gulf state data collection programs that pair a mandatory angler reporting app with an independent sample survey in which self-reported data can be validated. We have also conducted studies that have outlined the benefits and limitations of these applications.
We recognize there are challenges with electronic reporting since different surveys collect different types of information, and reporting requirements vary based on the type of fishing permit held. To help reduce reporting burden as much as possible, our partners at the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program are developing a process to streamline for-hire reporting along the Atlantic Coast, and we are facilitating peer review of this process.
Can state surveys replace MRIP surveys?
MRIP’s value as part of the recreational fishing data collection partnership is to produce year-to-year and long-term recreational fishing trends (patterns in fishing activity) covering many species, which is essential information for assessing fisheries stocks. Data collected from state partners through state-led surveys can and does contribute to federal fisheries management, and NOAA Fisheries will continue to support our state partners in facilitating peer reviews and certification of state-led surveys that can obtain more precise and timely estimates for certain species at the regional level, which is beneficial for in-season management purposes.
There are some lessons learned and challenges to consider. For instance, when multiple states in a region use different methodologies to collect recreational fishing data, it is challenging to directly compare their estimates of recreational catch, or to produce regionally consistent estimates that are necessary for the federal stock assessment and management processes. This is because different survey methods introduce different potential sources of error. A coordinated, consistent data-collection framework is necessary to produce comparable estimates across a region. In addition, programs must be properly resourced and able to support research initiatives for improvement.
In the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, NOAA Fisheries has been working closely with regional and state partners to address these issues.
How can anglers get involved?
As always, the best way anglers can help is to provide accurate and complete information to our surveys and to encourage others to do the same.
There are several opportunities to get more involved in the data collection and fisheries management processes. These include becoming a member of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, which has an active recreational subcommittee; participating in the regional fisheries management council process; or serving on advisory panels to those councils. NOAA Fisheries facilitates the appointment of council members annually. These entities have diverse representation, and we encourage anyone with an interest in sustainable fisheries management to explore these opportunities.