For-Hire Survey At-a-Glance
NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program administers a national network of recreational fishing surveys. The For-Hire Survey gathers information about for-hire fishing activity from captains along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
How does NOAA Fisheries collect information about for-hire fishing activity?
NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program administers the For-Hire Survey, also known as the For-Hire Telephone Survey, to collect information about fishing activity from for-hire captains along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The For-Hire Survey is conducted by state agency staff, who call a random sample of for-hire vessel operators each week.
Participation in the For-Hire Survey is mandatory for vessels that possess limited-access Charter/Headboat Permits for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species and Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish. All For-Hire Survey respondents are asked to report their vessels’ fishing activity during the previous week and to recount details from each trip, including the:
- Number of vessel trips with paying passengers taken that week
- Number of anglers that fished from the vessel on each trip
- Hours, area, and in some states, method fished (e.g., casting, drifting, trolling)
- Species targeted
The resulting data are used to estimate the number of angler trips taken from for-hire vessels. These for-hire effort estimates are paired with the for-hire catch-per-trip estimates we derive from our dockside angler intercept survey to estimate total for-hire catch.
Additional For-Hire Data Collection Programs
From Maine to Virginia, for-hire vessels that possess an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat Permit—or indicate to a state sampler that they have targeted HMS on a recent fishing trip—are required to participate in the Large Pelagics Telephone Survey, conducted as an “add-on” to the For-Hire Survey. Federally permitted for-hire vessels may also be required to report catch, effort, and economic information through additional data collection programs.
- In the Greater Atlantic, electronic vessel trip reports supplement the For-Hire Survey: While the vessels that must submit eVTRs are still part of the For-Hire Survey sample frame, they are not called to participate. Data collected through these eVTRs are used alongside data collected through the For-Hire Survey to estimate for-hire fishing effort.
- In the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, the Southeast For-Hire Integrated Electronic Reporting (SEFHIER) Program and Southeast Region Headboat Survey are conducted alongside the For-Hire Survey. While the For-Hire Survey does not contact headboats where the Southeast Region Headboat Survey is administered, some federally permitted charter boats may be required to participate in the For-Hire Survey and SEFHIER. This benchmarking period is a critical step in the process of transitioning to a new or improved data collection program.
Why does NOAA Fisheries conduct its angler intercept survey with clients instead of captains?
Because our methods for estimating shore, private boat, and for-hire catch are based on information collected from individual angler trips, we collect catch data from individual shore, private boat, and for-hire anglers. In other words, by conducting the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey with for-hire clients instead of their captains, we ensure our for-hire catch data is consistent with and comparable to the catch data we collect for other fishing modes.
While some for-hire clients may be unfamiliar with the details of their charter or headboat trip, field interviewers are trained to help anglers accurately identify the area they fished and the species they encountered. Our data review process is further designed to detect potential errors.
How does NOAA Fisheries determine the difference between a charter boat and a headboat?
Vessel size, inspection requirements, fee structure, and angler experience are all factors that may be used to distinguish charter boats from headboats. However, within the context of recreational fishing data collection, anticipated fishing activity is the most important factor that separates the two vessel types. Grouping vessels based on patterns in and levels of fishing effort—and sampling the catch of the two groups differently—reduces the potential for bias and improves the precision of our catch and effort estimates. The Marine Recreational Information Program defines charter boats and headboats as follows:
- Charter boats are vessels that take a group of anglers—usually six or fewer—on a fishing trip with a licensed captain and crew. The anglers hire, or “charter,” the vessel, and pay a fee for the captain’s services. Charter boats engage in a full range of fishing techniques, including drift fishing, trolling, and bottom fishing. Charter boat catch is sampled at public fishing access sites through the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey and Large Pelagics Intercept Survey.
- Headboats are vessels that take multiple individual and/or small groups of anglers on a fishing trip with a licensed captain and crew. Headboats are generally larger than charter boats, and almost always take more than six anglers on a given trip. Headboat catch is sampled at sea through the APAIS.
Isn’t a telephone survey old-fashioned?
Landline-based telephone surveys that contact a random selection of residential households are no longer considered a scientifically sound method of collecting data. However, telephone surveys are still effective as long as you have complete contact information for the population you’re sampling. The For-Hire Survey samples from a comprehensive, continually updated list of active for-hire vessels that includes complete contact information for each vessel’s representative.
How do I know my vessel’s information isn’t counted more than once?
Linking for-hire data to unique vessel identification numbers helps NOAA Fisheries ensure these data aren’t counted more than once. It is also important to note that NOAA Fisheries does not collect duplicative for-hire effort data from for-hire clients: For-hire clients participating in our angler intercept survey are only asked to report their catch. And when anglers receive our effort survey in the mail, they are only asked to report their shore and private boat trips.
How do for-hire data collection programs benefit me?
When for-hire captains, crew, and clients participate in a recreational fishing survey, they’re making a vital contribution to NOAA Fisheries’ understanding of how many fish anglers are catching and how many trips anglers are taking. Their catch and effort data help scientists assess the size and health of fish populations, so managers can pass regulations that support the long-term sustainability of fish stocks. Their economic data help managers evaluate the impacts of those regulations and assess disaster costs. In other words, gathering data directly from the for-hire sector allows captains, crew, and clients to inform our picture of for-hire fishing activity and the federal stock assessment and management process.
What can I do to help?
Effective fisheries management relies on accurate catch estimates, which can only be produced with the support and cooperation of for-hire captains, crew, and clients. For-hire captains are encouraged to participate in the data collection programs that apply to them, and to recommend their clients participate in NOAA Fisheries’ recreational fishing surveys when asked.