Gulf State Data Transition Process
NOAA Fisheries and Gulf State partners are working together to incorporate Gulf state survey data into regional recreational catch and effort estimates that support the federal stock assessment and sustainable management of U.S. fish stocks.
Gulf Transition Overview
The Gulf of Mexico has regionally specific management needs for high-profile species such as red snapper. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries has been supporting the development and implementation of state data collection programs designed to produce more timely and precise recreational catch estimates for certain species. A team of representatives from Gulf state agencies, including Gulf Fisheries Information Network, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, as well as NOAA Fisheries is working together to ensure information recreational anglers submit to the five state surveys is available to inform the federal stock assessment and management process. These surveys include Texas’ Coastal Creel Survey, Louisiana’s LA Creel, Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales, Alabama’s Snapper Check, and Florida’s State Reef Fish Survey.
The state data collection programs in the Gulf of Mexico use different statistical methods to produce more timely and precise estimates on a smaller scale, or state level, for certain species. The states use different data collection methods from one another that also differ from the collection methods NOAA Fisheries uses, which are designed to produce estimates on a larger scale to track national and regional trends for stock assessments. As a result, it’s not possible to directly compare their estimates of recreational catch. The team is working to reconcile differences between the estimates produced by the state surveys and the estimates produced by the NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information Program surveys, so meaningful comparisons can be made. One technique is called calibration, which rescales estimates from one survey design to the scale of another.
The outcome of this transition of incorporating state survey data into the stock assessment process is survey improvements, increased accuracy of state and federal recreational fisheries statistics, and minimization of differences between estimates. In addition, a publicly accessible state survey database will be developed to store state survey data, statistical values, and information that explains how state surveys are designed and implemented, and how statistical analyses are performed. The transition will also assist fisheries managers in following a consistent approach in the evaluation of all available recreational fishing data.
In fall 2023, the Gulf Transition Team began revising the transition plan to incorporate research efforts for two upcoming studies.
NOAA Fisheries is conducting a Fishing Effort Survey follow-up study that will help us gain a clearer understanding of the differences in effort estimates between the current design and a revised design that changes both the question order and increases the frequency of sampling. The revised design will be administered throughout all of 2024 alongside the current survey to compare the results.
The states of Mississippi and Alabama will be testing the administration of the fishing effort component (telephone survey) of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' LA Creel in their own states in 2024. LA Creel was certified by NOAA Fisheries in 2017 as a statistically valid approach to derive estimates of recreational fishing catch and effort estimates in the state. Effort estimates produced from this study along with expanded harvest estimates will be compared with NOAA Fisheries survey estimates and existing state survey estimates where possible to help fisheries program managers determine the best possible approach for collecting data to estimate recreational effort and harvest in Alabama and Mississippi.
How does NOAA Fisheries currently monitor, assess and manage stocks in the Gulf of Mexico?
NOAA Fisheries administers the following recreational fishing surveys in the Gulf of Mexico: the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (in-person interviews to estimate catch-per-trip); the Fishing Effort Survey (mail survey to estimate number of fishing trips from shore and private boats); the For-Hire Survey (telephone survey to estimate for-hire fishing effort, or the number of angler trips taken from charter boats and headboats); and the Fisheries Science Center Southeast Region Headboat Survey. Together, these surveys produce the regional trend information critical for stock assessments. NOAA Fisheries has been supporting the development and implementation of state data collection programs designed to produce more timely and precise recreational catch estimates for certain species.
Why is this Gulf Transition Plan necessary?
Since the inception of NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information Program in 2008, a transition plan that includes calibration is required for any survey MRIP certifies: 1) whenever there is a change in recreational fishing survey methods, and 2) that change results in changes in the scaling of recreational fishing catch and effort estimates. This is so the new design’s estimates can be used in the federal stock assessment and management process.
This Transition Plan will ensure that the information recreational anglers submit to Texas’ Coastal Creel Survey, Louisiana’s LA Creel (certified in 2017), Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales (certified in 2018), Alabama’s Snapper Check (conditionally certified in 2018), and Florida’s State Reef Fish Survey (certified in 2018) is available to inform the stock assessment and management process.
The Transition Plan will inform survey improvements, increase the accuracy of state and federal recreational fisheries statistics, and minimize differences between these data series. It will also inform an independent review requested by the House Committee on Appropriations to assess the accuracy of all recreational fishing surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.
What are the benefits to having state surveys certified by NOAA Fisheries?
NOAA Fisheries provides partners with access to technical resources, statistical support, and funding for data collection and survey implementation and improvements. This includes supporting the design and certification of state-operated recreational fishing surveys.
When NOAA Fisheries certifies a new or improved recreational fishing survey design, it means that a peer review has found the survey design to be a statistically valid approach to meet survey objectives and provide key estimates. Certified surveys are also eligible and prioritized to receive financial support from NOAA Fisheries.
Why can’t state data replace NOAA Fisheries data?
For monitoring purposes, state data can be used in lieu of NOAA Fisheries data, as long as state data and state-specific catch limits are of the same scale. However, estimates produced from these state surveys are calibrated to the scale of NOAA Fisheries estimates when it is necessary to produce a regional, long-term time series of recreational catch for fisheries management decisions. This is because NOAA Fisheries' surveys have been administered for a longer period of time, so they have a longer historical time series of estimates available.
In survey statistics, it is extremely common for different, statistically valid surveys to result in different estimates. This is because using different survey methods introduces different sources of variation and bias unique to those methods.
The large-scale recreational fishing surveys administered by NOAA Fisheries provide the only source of regionally consistent recreational data and long-term trend information covering many species. Replacing the program with a variety of state-specific data collection methods would challenge the ability to obtain regional stock-level estimates that are critical for stock assessments.
Why can’t state data be used “as-is” to inform U.S. stock assessments?
The state data collection programs in the Gulf of Mexico use different statistical methods, and these methods also differ from NOAA Fisheries methods. These differences make it impossible to directly compare estimates of recreational catch, or to use state data immediately in the federal stock assessment and management process. Instead, statistical methods must be used to place estimates in the same scale (calibration) or integrate into a composite time series. Not doing so could:
- Risk the allowance of overfishing or set unnecessarily restrictive management measures.
- Create abrupt, unaccounted for changes in recreational fisheries statistics, masking the trends that must be tracked for effective assessment and management.
How will we use state data and manage fisheries while we execute this Transition Plan?
The Transition Plan will ensure a consistent, historical time series of regional recreational fisheries statistics, so data users have the data needed to make informed management decisions. The Transition Plan includes interim ratio-calibrations, recommended by state and federal scientists, that allow state recreational fishing data to be used in the assessment and management of red snapper and other stocks in the Gulf of Mexico.
For most Gulf stock assessments in the short term, state estimates will be calibrated to federal estimates to match the scale of our existing, long-term time series of recreational catch in the region. The transition team has recommended we also calibrate Texas' estimates to the scale of NOAA Fisheries to produce a regionally consistent estimate. Final calibration is dependent upon continued refinement throughout the transition as research continues. For management in the short term, annual catch limits set at the scale of federal estimates will be calibrated to the scale of each state’s data collection program, and states will continue to monitor catch using their own data.
Calibration methods are expected to improve during the transition as we explore the reasons for differences between data collection programs (e.g. through continued side-by-side administration of the different surveys) and implement any necessary changes to NOAA Fisheries survey designs, state survey designs, or both. Over the long-term, the Plan will lead to the best approach for placing different data series in the same scale or integrating them into one composite estimate.
Who makes the decision on what recreational fishing data is used in a stock assessment?
NOAA Fisheries' certification of surveys does not guarantee implementation or use in federal fisheries management. Decisions as to how the data are used are made by NOAA Fisheries and partners, independent of the certification process.
The Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review Program (SEDAR) is the cooperative process by which stock assessment projects are conducted in NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Region. SEDAR was initiated to improve planning and coordination of stock assessment activities and to improve the quality and reliability of assessments. A number of agencies are involved in the SEDAR process, including the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management councils; NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center; NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office; NOAA Fisheries Highly Migratory Species Division; and the Atlantic and Gulf States Marine Fisheries commissions.
Why are estimates different?
Each state uses a different survey to track red snapper landings, which are not directly comparable to each other or to NOAA Fisheries' data. In general, more similar survey methods tend to have similar sources of variation/errors, and similar estimates, relative to surveys that use very different methods.
The federal and the state programs in Louisiana and Florida pair an on-site probability-based intercept (in-person interview) survey to collect catch-per-trip data with an off-site probability-based telephone, mail, or email survey to collect effort data. Mississippi and Alabama use capture-recapture approaches, which collect data through mandatory electronic trip reports (the “capture” phase) and validate data through a probability-based intercept survey at public fishing access sites (the “recapture” phase). These different survey designs drive different estimates.
As part of the Transition Plan, a state-federal-regional team of scientists is coordinating on a research effort to better understand and identify drivers for differences among the state and federal surveys in the region, so improvements can be made and their estimates may be more aligned.
- Gulf State Recreational Catch and Effort Surveys Transition Workshop (February 2022)
- Handout: NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf States
- Gulf of Mexico Recreational Data Collection Storyboard
- History of Management of Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper
- Transition Plan for Gulf State Recreational Fishing Surveys
- Transitioning to New Recreational Fishing Survey Designs