How the Marine Recreational Information Program Has Improved
By improving our existing methods, developing new methods, and integrating emerging technologies into our work, we are able to support the monitoring that is needed to accurately report total recreational catch.
After the 2006 National Academies of Sciences review of the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS) and the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, we began to make significant improvements to the way we collect recreational fishing information and estimate total recreational catch.
Since the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) replaced MRFSS in 2008, we have worked to improve how we collect, analyze, and report recreational fishing information. By improving our existing methods, developing new methods, and integrating emerging technologies into our work, we are able to support the monitoring that is needed to accurately report total recreational catch. Significant improvements to our program are described in more detail below. Milestones in NOAA Fisheries’ 40-year history of collecting recreational fishing data are also captured in a timeline.
Data Collection Methods
Most of our information about recreational fishing catch is collected through in-person intercepts with anglers who have just completed a fishing trip. After the National Academies of Sciences identified potential sources of bias in our sampling process, we revised our catch survey protocols. In 2013, we implemented the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS) to measure recreational catch on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This significantly improved how our intercepts are conducted.
- Under APAIS, specially trained state samplers conduct interviews during all parts of the day. Under MRFSS, samplers did not conduct interviews at night. The assumption that fishing activity was the same during both daytime and nighttime trips introduced the potential for bias.
- Sampling assignments are informed by site characteristics and fishing activity, as documented in our online database of public access fishing sites. Understanding how a fishing site is used and whether it features amenities that might attract an angler to visit improves our understanding of fishing activity. Ensuring more active sites are sampled more often increased sampling efficiency—allowing our samplers to spend more time interviewing anglers at high-activity sites and less time idle at low-activity sites—and ensures our overall sample is representative of actual fishing activity.
- Samplers stay on-site for the duration of an assignment, even if activity is low. Under MRFSS, samplers considered an assignment complete once a certain number of interviews had been conducted, and could leave a fishing site if activity was low. Now, samplers work at a specific location for a specific amount of time, regardless of how many interviews are obtained. Documenting low-activity sites and intercepting all eligible anglers—even when an angler hasn’t caught a fish—support more representative recreational fishing estimates.
Until 2018, our information about recreational fishing effort from shore and private boat fishing modes was collected through the Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS). The CHTS used random-digit dialing to reach residential households in counties on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. While random-digit dialing was a standard sampling methodology for conducting household surveys, there were shortcomings to this approach.
- Random-digit dialing was an inefficient method of sampling anglers, as it often placed calls to non-angler households.
- As landlines were abandoned for wireless numbers, random-digit dialing reached fewer and fewer potential anglers.
- As response rates to telephone surveys declined, random-digit dialing became increasingly susceptible to the risk of anglers not responding to our calls.
- A telephone-based survey approach was susceptible to measurement error, or the risk of obtaining inaccurate or incomplete answers from respondents.
Between 2008 and 2015, we conducted a series of pilot studies to identify a more accurate and efficient way to estimate shore and private boat recreational fishing effort in Hawaii and on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. When our research revealed a mail-based effort survey was superior to the random-digit dialing conducted under the CHTS, we certified a mail-based effort survey design. On December 31, 2017, the CHTS was discontinued. As of January 1, 2018, all effort estimates will be generated through the Fishing Effort Survey.
After the National Academies of Sciences identified a “mismatch” between the way we collected catch information and the way we used that information to estimate catch, we developed new catch estimation methods.
These methods were adopted in 2011 and used to recalculate our catch estimates dating back to 2004 to ensure our historical estimates were accurate and precise. These methods were also used to estimate catch until we adopted new catch survey protocols in 2013. Because these new protocols corrected the potential biases that were linked to the discrepancies between our estimation methods and our survey design, we returned to our old estimation methods after they were adopted.
Our work to foster healthy, productive, and sustainable marine fisheries depends on an historical time series of fishing statistics. When we improve our existing data collection methods or adopt new recreational fishing surveys, these statistics can be disrupted with numbers whose marked difference reflects the fact that we are better monitoring fishing activity. Calibration is a technical process that places legacy fishing estimates and new fishing estimates into the same “currency” so we can make “apples to apples” comparisons between the two.
After we adopted the Fishing Effort Survey (FES) in 2018, we used calibration to convert our historical effort estimates into what they would have been if this new survey design had been in place all along. Our calibration model for re-estimating historical effort estimates was peer reviewed and approved. A similar peer review process was used to adjust historical catch estimates produced by the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS) following a 2013 transition to an improved sampling design.
As MRIP evolves from developing and testing survey improvements to putting new methods to practice in the field, our Executive Steering Committee has adopted a hybrid approach to implementation. Under this approach:
- NOAA Fisheries—working through MRIP—maintains a central role in developing and certifying survey methods and establishing national standards and best practices.
- Regions—working through Regional Implementation Teams—are responsible for selecting survey methods and managing data collection.
In other words, individual regions are responsible for determining which survey methods are most suitable for their science, stock assessment, and management needs. Regional Implementation Plans allow the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and Alaska to identify, prioritize, and estimate the cost of additions and improvements to their data collection programs, and help MRIP develop a national inventory of partner needs and annual priority-setting criteria for supporting them.