Frequent Questions: Recreational Fishing Survey and Data Standards
These frequently asked questions explain why the standards were established, how the standards will be implemented, and how NOAA Fisheries expects the standards to impact science and management.
NOAA Fisheries’ Recreational Fishing Survey and Data Standards guide the design, improvement, and quality of information produced by the recreational fishing surveys that are administered or funded through the agency’s Marine Recreational Information Program. These Frequently Asked Questions explain why the standards were established, how the standards will be implemented, and how we expect the standards to impact science and management.
Why did NOAA Fisheries establish the standards?
NOAA Fisheries established these standards to promote data quality, consistency, and comparability across the recreational fishing surveys administered and funded through the agency’s Marine Recreational Information Program, thereby facilitating the shared use of the statistics these surveys produce. The standards set clear criteria for what NOAA Fisheries considers sound recreational fishing survey management practices, and their establishment removes ambiguities about whether a practice should be considered a recommendation or a requirement. By providing our partners, data customers, and other stakeholders with a single set of guidelines for collecting data and producing estimates, the standards also support the transparency of the Marine Recreational Information Program.
Which surveys must adhere to which standards?
All recreational fishing surveys that receive funding from the Marine Recreational Information Program are required to meet all of the standards, with the exception of Standards 7.2.1, 22.214.171.124, and 126.96.36.199.
Which standards are already in use?
While these standards were established in 2020, several are already in use:
- Standards 1-4 (Survey Concepts and Justification, Survey Design, Data Quality, and Transition Planning) are part of NOAA Fisheries’ certification and transition policies and procedural directives.
- Standard 5 (Review Procedures) is part of cooperative agreements between the agency and its partners.
- Standard 6.1 (Process Improvement Plan) is part of the program’s regional implementation planning process.
How do certification requirements relate to the standards?
To earn certification, survey sponsors must provide documentation to support a technical review of survey methods. This documentation is the same documentation described in Standard 1, 2, and 3.
Are similar standards, guidelines, or best practices available elsewhere?
- Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)
- Standards and Guidelines for Statistical Surveys (Office of Management and Budget)
- Statistical Quality Standards (U.S. Census Bureau)
- Federal, National, and International Data Standards (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
- Data Standards (U.S. Geological Survey)
- Measuring and Reporting Sources of Error in Surveys (Office of Management and Budget)
- Data Presentation Standards for Proportions (National Center for Health Statistics)
- Criteria for Data Suppression (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- American Community Survey Data Suppression (U.S. Census Bureau)
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Data User Guide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- American Community Survey Data User Notes (U.S. Census Bureau)
What is NOAA Fisheries doing to help its partners transition to the standards?
The implementation of these standards will be phased. To help our partners and data customers familiarize themselves with the standards and with changes to the way NOAA Fisheries will present its recreational fisheries statistics, the agency has:
- Delivered presentations to regional Fisheries Information Networks.
- Published the MRIP Data User Handbook, which contains detailed information about downloading, exporting, querying, and analyzing the agency’s marine recreational fishing data.
- Published new queries to provide a preview of our switch to cumulative (rather than wave-specific) estimates (see Standard 7.2.1) and our adoption of a precision threshold (see Standard 188.8.131.52).
The agency will also:
- Hold a Data User Seminar Series to provide stock assessors and fisheries analysts with best practices for accessing, analyzing, and using recreational fishing data.
- Publish a checklist to document compliance with the standards' documentation requirements.
If additional support is needed, partners and data customers are encouraged to contact the Marine Recreational Information Program’s Program Management Team or identify needs in their next Regional Implementation Plan.
Will National Saltwater Angler Registry MOAs need to be updated as part of the transition to the standards?
The preferred approach would involve cooperatively working with state agencies to achieve the standards.
Who is responsible for preparing documentation to meet the standards?
Survey administrators are responsible for developing the required survey documentation. State agencies may choose to work with their regional Fisheries Information Networks to prepare regional reports for submission to NOAA Fisheries.
What if documentation is already available elsewhere?
To achieve transparency, documentation should be organized to clearly meet the purpose of the standards. Existing documents may be submitted as long as the requirements of the standards are met.
What is an example of sufficient documentation?
For an example of the technical documentation described in Standard 2, see Survey Design and Statistical Methods for Estimation of Recreational Fisheries Catch and Effort (PDF, 98 pages). For an example of the annual report described in Standard 5.2, see the Fishing Effort Survey 2019 Annual Report (PDF, 48 pages).
Science and Management
Will previously published data be retroactively updated after these standards are put in place?
Yes. Once these standards are fully implemented, wave-level estimates and imprecise estimates (defined as those with PSEs above 50%) will not be provided as part of MRIP statistics.
Will stock assessors still have access to wave-level estimates?
Analysts who choose to create non-standard estimates (for instance, wave-specific rather than cumulative estimates) may use the microdata and custom domain analysis programs available on the Recreational Fishing Data Downloads page and follow the guidance that will be provided in the MRIP Data User Handbook. However, MRIP does not suggest or support the use of these statistics.
Standard 7.2.3: Measures of Precision for Estimates Posted Publicly
How will the precision threshold improve fisheries science and management?
The precision threshold described in Standard 7.2.3 is an important part of improving the quality of our recreational fisheries statistics and the strength of science-based management decisions. Ultimately, the precision threshold will:
- Provide scientists and managers with more reliable catch estimates.
- Reduce the risks that are associated with the inappropriate interpretation of estimates that are imprecise.
- Indicate when data limited fisheries could benefit from additional data collection support and where alternatives in survey design, sample allocation, or management may be necessary.
Is NOAA Fisheries’ precision threshold consistent with the practices of other federal agencies?
The precision threshold reflects practices currently in place at the National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, and other federal statistical agencies. The U.S. Census Bureau, for instance, does not publicly release estimates whose coefficients of variation exceed 30%. Our precision threshold is more liberal: we will present a warning when an estimate’s percent standard error exceeds 30%, and will not publish an estimate when its percent standard error exceeds 50%.
How did NOAA Fisheries determine that a PSE above 50% is an appropriate precision threshold?
As part of a workshop to explore the effects of increasingly imprecise estimates on stock assessment results, state and federal stock assessment scientists and fisheries managers in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast agreed that estimates with PSEs above 40% should only be used with caution. (The Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) continues to set a goal of achieving PSE values of 20 to 30%.) It is also important to note that the 95% confidence interval for an estimate with a PSE above 50% includes zero.
If the statistics I need are not part of the agency’s official estimates, how will I be able to access them?
When the precision threshold prevents the release of an estimate that a stock assessment scientist or fisheries manager needs, the Office of Science and Technology will work with this data customer to explore ways to improve statistical precision for the affected fisheries (e.g., by using a multi-year averaging technique). The precision threshold only applies to the publication of estimates (calculated statistical values). Partners and the public will continue to have access to all of the respondent data collected through our surveys (used to produce the estimates), as well as the tools needed to analyze these data.
What is the Marine Recreational Information Program doing to produce more precise estimates?
In FY20, the program distributed $3 million in Modern Fish Act investment funds to its Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Regional Implementation Teams to increase sampling levels and improve the precision of catch estimates. The program is also exploring ways to produce more precise estimates for rare-event species.