Modes of Recreational Data Collection
From in-person interviews to telephone and mail surveys, different modes of data collection help NOAA Fisheries gather information from private anglers and for-hire owners and operators.
NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information Program collects recreational fishing data from private anglers and for-hire owners and operators. We use three modes of data collection to obtain this information: in-person interviews, telephone surveys, and mail surveys. We also use electronic reporting technologies to facilitate data collection in the field. Because we use probability sampling methods, our suite of recreational fishing surveys can be used to produce statistically sound estimates of total recreational catch.
Working on behalf of NOAA Fisheries, specially trained state staff conduct in-person angler interviews as part of two Marine Recreational Information Program surveys:
- The Access Point Angler Intercept Survey, which collects catch-per-trip information from private anglers and for-hire clients as they complete their fishing trips.
- The Large Pelagics Intercept Survey, which collects catch-per-trip information from private and for-hire vessels returning from trips targeting tuna, billfish, sharks, and other large pelagic fish.
NOAA Fisheries also uses in-person interviews to conduct validation surveys for vessel trip reporting programs. Dockside validation surveys allow us to monitor reporting rates, account for unreported fishing trips, and verify self-reported data. Field interviewers play no role in law enforcement, and must keep the information anglers share confidential.
When NOAA Fisheries began collecting recreational fishing data in 1979, we used the Coastal Household Telephone Survey to collect information on shore and private boat fishing effort. While random digit dialing was a standard sampling practice for household surveys like this one, there were known limitations to this approach. As communications technologies changed and the use of landline telephones declined, these limitations grew more pronounced, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the CHTS diminished. In 2018, the Marine Recreational Information Program replaced the CHTS with an effort survey administered by mail.
However, the program continues to administer two telephone surveys of for-hire owners and operators:
- The For-Hire Survey, which collects effort information from state and federally permitted charter and headboats.
- The Large Pelagics Telephone Survey, which is conducted as an "add-on" to the FHS with vessels that hold an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat permit or have indicated that they targeted HMS on a recent trip.
Because we have reliable contact information for the populations these surveys target, stratified random sample telephone surveys are still an effective method of collecting data from these groups.
The Marine Recreational Information Program administers one mail survey of the recreational fishing community: the Fishing Effort Survey, which collects shore and private boat fishing effort information from residential households. Implemented in 2018, the FES was designed to reduce the potential for reporting and recall errors, provide nearly complete coverage of coastal state residents, and achieve a more representative sample than the telephone survey it replaced.
This mail survey design has also improved response rates. In 2016, response rates to the Coastal Household Telephone Survey were less than 10%. Response rates to the FES are consistently around 31%.
Electronic reporting allows field interviewers, for-hire operators, and private anglers to use smartphones, tablets, computers, and other technologies to record, send, and store recreational fishing data. While the Marine Recreational Information Program does not administer any private angler reporting apps or for-hire electronic logbook programs, field interviewers conducting the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey do use tablets instead of paper forms. The tablet works offline during field assignments, and features built-in logic to minimize the introduction of errors during data entry.
In 2018, the Marine Recreational Information Program tested a mailing that encouraged, or “pushed,” recipients of our Fishing Effort Survey to complete an online questionnaire before a paper questionnaire was provided. This web-push design decreased response rates and the timeliness of data collection, and was found to be less effective than our current Fishing Effort Survey approach.