Recreational Electronic Reporting At-a-Glance
The Marine Recreational Information Program is working to advance the use of electronic reporting in recreational fisheries data collection.
What is electronic reporting?
Electronic reporting is a method of data collection that uses smartphones, tablets, computers, and other 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. When an “opt-in,” or non-mandatory, website or mobile application is used to collect data from anglers, a statistically valid probability-based sampling survey must be used to validate self-reported data, monitor the extent of reporting, and correct for missing or misfiled electronic reports.
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, the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) 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. This directive also outlined our priorities for expanding the use of electronic reporting, from exploring the utility of angler reporting applications to determining how electronic technologies can support logbook reporting in the for-hire sector and data collection by samplers in the field.
How is MRIP advancing the use of electronic reporting technologies?
Adopted in 2018, the MRIP Action Plan to Implement Electronic Reporting outlines four actions.
- Assess the current status and future potential of electronic reporting options for private anglers.
- Evaluate the inclusion of an online reporting option for the mail Fishing Effort Survey.
- Advance electronic reporting in the for-hire sector.
- Strengthen stakeholder engagement.
We are also working to advance the use of electronic reporting to record and deliver data among shoreside samplers and at-sea observers.
How is electronic reporting used to collect data from private anglers?
Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS)
In 2019, field interviewers from Maine through Georgia started using tablets instead of paper forms to conduct the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS). 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. In 2021, samplers in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi adopted the program with support from ACCSP and the Gulf Fisheries Information Network (GulfFIN), which coordinates the implementation of our angler intercept survey in the Gulf.
The APAIS is still an in-person interview, and the interviewer is still responsible for recording the information an angler provides. In other words, while the tablet-based system is an electronic reporting technology, it’s not an angler-controlled app. 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.
Electronic reporting is a component of two recreational fishing surveys in the Gulf of Mexico: Alabama’s Snapper Check and Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales. Both of these mandatory "capture-recapture" survey designs use electronic technologies to collect catch information from anglers (the "capture" phase) and a probability-based dockside intercept survey to qualify angler reporting (the "recapture" phase).
In Mississippi, anglers must report information about their Gulf red snapper catch through a smartphone application. Because the state’s red snapper fishery is relatively small, outreach and enforcement efforts can be targeted, and compliance rates among participating anglers are above 80 percent.
In Alabama, anglers can report information through a smartphone application, a website, or a paper form. Because this red snapper fishery is relatively large, outreach and enforcement are more challenging, and compliance rates are estimated at 30 percent for private boat anglers and 50 percent for for-hire operators.
What are the benefits and limitations of using electronic technologies to collect data from private anglers?
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, especially when data are voluntarily reported through a website or mobile application. These challenges include:
- Low recruitment and retention rates, even with extensive education and outreach.
- High potential for selection bias, to the extent that the anglers who use these apps fish differently than the anglers who don't.
- A lack of standards to support valid data collection or estimation designs.
On their own, voluntary angler reporting apps cannot produce population-level estimates of recreational catch. Instead, a statistically valid probability-based sampling survey must be used to validate self-reported data, monitor the extent of reporting, and account for unreported trips. The addition of this survey will impact data collection costs, while the accuracy and rate of app reports will impact the quality of the resulting estimates.
An MRIP Research and Evaluation Team report highlights existing research on this topic and includes several recommendations regarding the role of mobile apps in recreational fisheries data collection.
- In the absence of a statistically valid probability-based sampling survey, data collected through opt-in angler reporting apps should not be used to produce population-level estimates of recreational catch. Instead, these data may be used to support observational, citizen science-based studies, such as the tracking of rare or unusual sightings of fish species to document changes in habitat ranges.
- The further development of data collection programs that integrate mobile apps into a statistically valid probability-based sampling survey should focus on increasing reporting rates and ensuring surveys are implemented according to their statistical designs.
- Before new data collection programs are proposed or developed, the reporting burden placed on anglers should be evaluated. Increased reporting burden could adversely affect reporting rates and data quality across all programs.
- Considering the lack of participation in opt-in angler reporting apps and the challenges associated with implementing a probability-based sampling survey to accompany them, efforts to expand electronic reporting should focus on more proven, cost-effective opportunities (e.g., as an alternative to paper forms in onsite angler catch surveys).
How is electronic reporting used to collect data from for-hire operators?
In its 2006 review of federal and state marine recreational fishing surveys, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS)—the precursor to MRIP—transition to census-based electronic reporting in the for-hire sector. Following extensive research, a team of scientists, managers, and for-hire operators agreed on a core set of requirements for a successful census-based electronic reporting program. These requirements include:
- Working toward the goal of developing a complete census of participants in the fishery.
- Maintaining a complete registry of for-hire vessels and operators.
- Allowing the use of multiple authorized applications or devices for reporting, as long as these devices meet data quality standards.
- Implementing accountability measures to ensure compliance, and developing compliance tracking procedures that balance timeliness with resources.
- Using standardized procedures to validate electronic logbook data.
- Including procedures to expand estimates to account for misreporting or non-reporting.
- Reducing or eliminating paper reporting and eliminating duplication to ease reporting burdens. (Paper-based reporting options should be maintained in case of catastrophe.)
- Coordinating program design and implementation with state and regional partners.
Developing For-Hire Electronic Logbooks: The MRIP Road Map outlines the tasks that will guide our work toward developing and certifying one or more census-based electronic reporting survey designs, to include shoreside validation sampling. As part of this work, we supported a workshop in 2019 to develop a clear and direct process for making certified census-based electronic reporting survey designs available to regional partners for implementation, when identified as a preferred alternative to the current design (which pairs a telephone survey of fishing effort with an access point intercept survey).
While the Greater Atlantic and Southeast Fisheries offices use electronic trip reporting programs to collect catch, effort, and, in some cases, economic data from federally permitted for-hire vessels, it's important for all for-hire vessels from Maine through Mississippi to participate in our For-Hire Survey. This is the only for-hire data collection program that includes both state and federally permitted vessels, and data from the new Southeast For-Hire Electronic Reporting Program will not inform our catch estimates until we have determined how our historical estimates will be converted to this new program's design.