Southeast Region Headboat Survey
Collecting data on many bottom and migratory fish species throughout the southeast, providing important information for fish stock assessments, and research leading to better management.
The Southeast Region Headboat Survey became the first survey to collect reef fish data in the Atlantic beginning in 1972. Headboats are capable of carrying more people than charter boats and they charge per person, or “head,” unlike chartering the vessel for one fee. The number of participating headboats grew steadily through the southern Atlantic and then into the Gulf of Mexico by 1986. The survey continues to be the longest running saltwater recreational fishing survey in the Southeast Atlantic. We currently have an average of 140 vessels participating split between the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
This work is one of the main sources of recreational, fishery-dependent data, and in some cases the only supplier of life history data for more than 350 reef and pelagic fish species. This information contributes to fisheries management through its role in the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review stock assessment process.
Collecting Fishery Dependent Data
We use the information collected by the survey to assess populations of sought-after fish like snapper and grouper. Much of the historic data we have for these species came exclusively from this survey. It provides the only reliable source of data for many species prior to 1981. Collecting and maintaining these data are critical to providing products to fishery managers for stock assessments and annual quota monitoring. Fishery managers also use the headboat survey data extensively as a decision-making tool to change and adapt fisheries to shifting populations. Research on life histories of various reef fish and migratory species have been dependent on the biological data from the survey, including information on physical description, length, weight. Samples collected from the survey can include otolith and gonads which contribute to aging and reproductive research.
Long-Term Data Sets and Technology
What makes a survey like this so important is having a comprehensive long-term data set. It reflects the many technological and developmental changes in recreational fisheries over time. There have been significant technological improvements to navigational units, fishfinders, and vessels in general. These have all contributed to increasing the efficiency and ability to catch fish. Similarly, the survey has implemented innovative ways to improve data collection methods, including the use of electronic measuring boards, scales, and computer tablets for dockside sampling. Logbook reporting has also been streamlined with the implementation of electronic reporting. Captains now have the ability to submit trip reports through a mobile application or web portal, which are more efficient. As time passes, the headboat survey will continue to improve and keep pace with technology in order to provide information that allows long term changes in stocks to be assessed and studied.
The Southeast Region Headboat Survey participates in outreach through science center staff, including its port agents. Working dockside, port agents engage with the fishing community and answer questions about the survey, fish species, and more. They have also built lasting relationships with headboat owners, captains and staff over the years, garnering trust, cooperation and positive results.
Partners and Data Users
Our major partners and data users include:
- South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
- Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
- Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review process
- NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
- Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission
- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission