Recreational Electronic Reporting At-a-Glance
From tablet-based field surveys to electronic logbooks, NOAA Fisheries is advancing 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 electronic 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. If an "opt-in," or non-mandatory, website or mobile application is being used to collect catch and effort data from anglers, it must be paired with a carefully designed, statistically valid, and independent probability-based sample survey to produce valid estimates of recreational catch.
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, NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information Program has supported more than a dozen 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 and advance the appropriate use of electronic reporting technologies. This directive also outlined our priorities for expanding the use of electronic reporting, from exploring the utility of mobile angler reporting apps to determining how electronic technologies can support for-hire logbook reporting and data collection by samplers in the field.
How is electronic reporting used to collect recreational fishing data?
Tablet-based Field Data Collection
From Maine through Mississippi, field interviewers conducting the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey use tablets instead of paper forms. The tablet-based system was developed, tested, and deployed with funding from NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP), which coordinates the implementation of our angler intercept survey in 13 states.
The APAIS is still an in-person intercept, and the field interviewer is still responsible for recording the information an angler provides. The tablet works offline during field assignments, and features built-in logic to minimize the introduction of errors during data entry. Initial reports show the time between an intercept and a data submission has significantly dropped, and staff are saving time processing, checking, and correcting data.
Angler Reporting Apps
Several of our state and regional partners have developed angler reporting apps. In 2018, NOAA Fisheries certified the designs of Mississippi's Snapper Check and Alabama's Tails n' Scales. Because these "capture-recapture" data collection programs pair a mandatory angler reporting app (the "capture" phase) with an independent probability-based sample survey (the "recapture" phase), they are capable of producing valid population-level estimates of recreational catch.
In 2019, the Marine Recreational Information Program completed a review of the iAngler and iSnapper reporting programs (PDF, 15 pages). While iAngler and iSnapper were found to be viable platforms for reporting recreational fishing data, the challenge of low participation and the absence of a probability-based sampling component limits the usefulness of their data.
For-hire Electronic Logbooks
Several of our state and regional partners use electronic logbooks to collect data from for-hire vessels.
- In the Greater Atlantic, most federally permitted for-hire vessels are required to submit monthly electronic Vessel Trip Reports to the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office. Data collected through eVTRs are provided to the Marine Recreational Information Program for use in estimating for-hire fishing effort. While the for-hire vessels that are required to submit eVTRs are part of the program's For-Hire Survey sample frame, they are not called to participate. The decision to exclude FHS data where it overlaps with eVTR data was implemented in 2021 to reduce reporting burden.
- In the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, most federally permitted for-hire vessels are required to submit after-trip (Gulf of Mexico) or weekly (South Atlantic) electronic trip reports to the Southeast Regional Office. (Federally permitted headboats may also submit trip reports as part of the Southeast Region Headboat Survey.) At this time, the Southeast For-Hire Integrated Electronic Reporting Program is being conducted alongside the MRIP For-Hire Survey, and some vessel owners may be asked—or required, depending on the permit(s) they hold—to participate in both. This benchmarking period is a critical step in the process of transitioning to a new or improved survey design.
- In Alaska and California, for-hire vessels can use paper or electronic logbooks to record their trips.
What are the benefits and limitations of angler reporting apps?
While electronic reporting has the potential to reduce data collection costs and improve the quality of reported information, there are challenges associated with using these technologies to collect data from anglers. In practice, relatively few anglers download or consistently use apps to report their recreational catch and effort data. Low recruitment and retention rates lead to biases in the data. In highlights from its 2021 review of recreational data and management strategies, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine notes, “Unless these patterns [of low recruitment and retention] are reversed, and biases in reporting are addressed, reliance on such voluntary data collection systems is unlikely to advance [the Marine Recreational Information Program] over the coming years.”
Furthermore, most opt-in angler reporting apps constitute a non-probability sample of self-selected volunteers. Because it’s not possible to determine if a non-probability sample is representative of the target population, there can be no guarantee that such a sample will produce unbiased estimates. In other words, opt-in angler reporting apps can’t replace probability-based sample surveys when it comes to producing valid population-level estimates of recreational catch. Instead, data collected through such apps are only suitable for observational studies that don’t aim to produce population-level estimates, such as shifts in marine species ranges, occurrences of invasive species, or observations of fish health, including bacterial disease in striped bass.
When angler reporting apps are paired with a carefully designed, independent probability-based sample survey, reporting rates can be monitored, unreported fishing trips can be accounted for, and self-reported data can be validated by trained experts in the field. Known as a “capture-recapture” survey, the success of this sampling method requires considerable investment in survey design, administration, and oversight; consistently high reporting rates from participants; and a clear mechanism for ensuring sufficient compliance can be achieved.