Electronic Reporting At-a-Glance
The Marine Recreational Information Program is working to advance the use of electronic reporting in recreational fishing data collection.
What is electronic reporting?
Electronic reporting is a method of data collection that uses smartphones, tablets, computers, and other technologies to record, send, and store recreational fishing data.
In some cases, electronic reporting allows samplers to use tablets instead of paper and pencil to record and submit data collected in the field. In others, electronic reporting allows anglers and for-hire operators to record and submit data through a website or mobile application. When a data collection program uses electronic reporting, it often also uses shoreside sampling to validate self-reported data and correct for missing or misfiled electronic reports.
In 2013, NOAA Fisheries adopted its Policy on Electronic Technologies and Fishery-Dependent Data Collection to encourage the consideration of electronic technologies to complement or improve fishery-dependent data collection programs. Since 2013, the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) has supported 13 studies related to electronic reporting. In 2016, we published an Electronic Reporting Procedural Directive (PDF, 5 pages) that affirmed our commitment to working with partners to develop sound electronic reporting tools. This directive also outlined our priorities for expanding the use of electronic reporting, from exploring the utility of angler reporting applications to determining how electronic technologies can support logbook reporting in the for-hire sector and data collection by samplers in the field.
In 2018, we began advancing electronic reporting through a four-part Action Plan.
How is electronic reporting being used to collect data from for-hire operators?
In its 2006 review of federal and state marine recreational fishing surveys, the National Research Council recommended the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS)—the precursor to MRIP—transition to census-based electronic reporting in the for-hire sector. Following extensive research, a team of scientists, managers, and for-hire operators agreed on a core set of requirements for a successful census-based electronic reporting program. These requirements include:
- Working toward the goal of developing a complete census of participants in the fishery.
- Maintaining a complete registry of for-hire vessels and operators.
- Allowing the use of multiple authorized applications or devices for reporting, as long as these devices meet data quality standards.
- Implementing accountability measures to ensure compliance, and developing compliance tracking procedures that balance timeliness with resources.
- Using standardized procedures to validate electronic logbook data.
- Including procedures to expand estimates to account for misreporting or non-reporting.
- Reducing or eliminating paper reporting and eliminating duplication to ease reporting burdens. (Paper-based reporting options should be maintained in case of catastrophe.)
- Coordinating program design and implementation with state and regional partners.
Developing For-Hire Electronic Logbooks: The MRIP Road Map outlines the tasks that will guide our work toward developing and certifying one or more census-based electronic reporting survey designs, to include shoreside validation sampling. As part of this work, in 2019, we will support a workshop to develop a clear and direct process for making certified census-based electronic reporting survey designs available to regional partners for implementation, when identified as a preferred alternative to the current design (which pairs a telephone survey of fishing effort with an access point intercept survey).
How is electronic reporting being used to collect data from private anglers?
Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS)
In 2019, Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS) samplers on the Atlantic coast—trained by the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP)—began to use tablets to record and send angler intercept data.
The tablet application works offline during field assignments, and features built-in logic meant to minimize the introduction of errors during data entry. Initial reports indicate the time between an intercept and a data submission has significantly dropped, and staff are saving time processing, checking, and correcting data.
Fishing Effort Survey (FES)
In 2018, we initiated a pilot study of an online reporting option for the mail Fishing Effort Survey (FES). A “push to web” design that encourages participants to respond to the FES through a computer or mobile device is being tested in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Florida. If, after two reminders, the participant fails to complete the online survey, a paper survey will be provided that can be completed and returned by mail.
By providing a paper survey as a last resort, this mixed-mode design may benefit from the advantages of electronic reporting—like timely data submission, built-in logic checks, and reduced cost—while reduce the potential bias that can arise when some respondents are willing to respond to a survey by mail but unlikely or unwilling to respond to the same survey online.
While surveys that provide more than one reporting option can, under certain conditions, produce moderately high response rates, research indicates mail-only approaches typically produce higher response rates and more sample data. The decision to implement a mixed-mode design will have to evaluate response rates, as well as respondent representativeness, reported fishing activity, timeliness, cost, and the potential effects our methods of data collection could have on the resulting estimates.
Electronic reporting is a component of two recreational fishing surveys in the Gulf of Mexico: Alabama’s Snapper Check and Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales. Both of these mandatory reporting programs use electronic technologies to collect catch information from private anglers and shoreside sampling to validate self-reported data.
In Mississippi, anglers must report information about their Gulf red snapper catch through a smartphone application. Because the state’s red snapper fishery is relatively small, outreach and enforcement efforts can be targeted, and compliance rates among participating anglers are above 80 percent.
In Alabama, anglers can report information through a smartphone application, a website, or a paper form. Because this red snapper fishery is relatively large, outreach and enforcement are more challenging, and compliance rates are estimated at 30 percent for private boat anglers and 50 percent for for-hire operators.
What are the benefits and limitations of using electronic technologies to collect data from private anglers?
While electronic reporting has the potential to reduce data collection costs and accelerate data release, there are challenges associated with using these technologies to collect data from private anglers, especially when data are voluntarily reported by anglers through a website or mobile application.
- One pilot study found low participation rates in voluntary, app-based angler reporting programs to be a persistent problem. Of the small number of anglers who used these applications, most failed to provide more than two reports, and only 10 percent still used the application after one year.
- Angler reporting applications are likely to experience selection bias, or the tendency for more avid anglers to report. This could lead to overestimates of fishing activity.
- Shoreside sampling must be administered to validate angler-reported data and correct missing or misfiled electronic reports. This requires resources that can offset the potential savings electronic data collection might provide.
In 2019, we expect to complete an assessment of the challenges and opportunities associated with using electronic technologies to collect data from private anglers. This assessment will serve as guidance for our future efforts in this area, and will be based on three MRIP-supported studies:
- Implementation of iSnapper in the Gulf of Mexico (PDF, 62 pages)
- Assessing and Refining the Collection of App-based Angler Information (PDF, 175 pages)
- Electronic Reporting in Survey Research Applied to Estimating Fishing Effort (PDF, 48 pages)
It will also be informed by a fourth study: Estimation of a Total from a Population of Unknown Size and Application to Estimating Recreational Red Snapper Catch in Texas.
How is MRIP advancing the use of electronic reporting technologies?
Adopted in 2018, Implementing Electronic Reporting: The MRIP Action Plan outlines four actions meant to advance the use of electronic reporting in recreational fishing data collection programs.
- Evaluate the inclusion of an online reporting option for the mail Fishing Effort Survey.
- Advance electronic reporting in the for-hire sector.
- Assess the current status and future potential of electronic reporting options for private anglers.
- Strengthen stakeholder engagement.
We are also working to advance the use of electronic reporting to record and deliver data among shoreside samplers and at-sea observers.