Black sea bass, summer flounder and red snapper will likely be impacted first by new MRIP data

“I can’t understand… we’ve got 350,000 anglers in New York not 900,000.” said the caller from New York when questions opened up during the July 13, 2018 webinar about the revised Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) estimates.

New estimates for 1981 to 2017 were calibrated as part of MRIP’s transition from the Coastal Household Telephone Survey to the new Fishing Effort Survey that is mailed.  The mail survey (that has a three-times greater response rate) is a more accurate way to estimate saltwater recreational fishing trips form shore and private boat anglers.

Overall the new estimates are several times higher than past estimates.  The study indicates that the increase in effort estimates arose because the mail survey does a better job of estimating recreational fishing activity.  The new estimates are not higher because there is a sudden increase in fishing trips.

MRIP developed a calibration model to utilize new effort data obtained from using the mail survey.  Additionally, a similar process to adjust historical catch rate estimates was produced by a new Access Point Angler Intercept Survey.  The shore side survey, conducted by state partners, collects information on angler catch and was overhauled in 2012. Using the two calibration models, MRIP released revised estimates of total recreational catch on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from 1981 to 2017.

Like the caller from New York, some webinar participants were quick to point out what they thought were inaccuracies in the new data.  Additionally, some on the call feared a harvest limit decrease across the board based on the new revised update of catch and effort date.

However, MRIP officials assured call participants that new recreational catch data would have to be integrated into new stock assessments.  Then and only then will we be able to know the impact of the new data as an increase in catch and effort data may be due to an increase in stock abundance so harvest limits will not automatically go down.

Species on the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico soon to undergo stock assessments will be the first to incorporate the new catch-and-effort data. Those include including red snapper, black sea bass and summer flounder.  So if we are going to see changes due to the new data, we will experience them in the context of fishing for those three species first. Harvest limits using the new data could possibly be in place as early as 2019.

Other webinar participants took a different angle. Steven Brustein, an angler from West Warwick, Rhode Island said, “The new MRIP data model is much appreciated.  It is the best available data; however, they are still estimates.  I believe we need to record catch and effort from anglers electronically on everything they catch.  This way we will know exactly what is being taken out to the water.”

The desire for “harder” numbers is understandable. Data collection for the recreational fishery has long been problematic.  Recreational harvest limits are established in part by estimating catch then multiplying it by effort estimates. Commercial catch limits are established with hard data with fishermen reporting all fish they extract from the water. Estimating catch and effort has led to inaccuracies that are frustrating.

Improving recreational fishing data has been a goal of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) for a long time.  In 2004 the NMFS first asked what is now called the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to review data collection for marine recreational fisheries in the United States.

Recommendations form this study included the formation of what we know as MRIP.  The recommendations of the 2006 report called for a considerable redesign of the entire survey program to update survey methods to reduce bias, increase efficiencies, and allow for greater stakeholder trust and better relations with the recreational angling community.

Since 2006, NMFS has worked to improve the survey program.  In 2016 NMFS requested the National Academies to conduct a second study to evaluate how well and to what extent NMFS has addressed the past recommendations.

Recommendations from the 2017 National Academies Report are now being implemented.

Need to move forward

Many in the fishing community believe we need to move forward with new MRIP data models that create better data, and at the same time, continue to explore anglers recording catch and effort electronically.

Ways to entice anglers to record catch and effort need to be explored. States that have electronic recording systems have experienced low angler compliance levels.But the compliance problem is well worth solving, or at least mitigating. Better, more accurate recreational fishing catch and effort data has and will translate to sustainable fisheries and enhanced recreational participation. Uncertainty buffers should shrink and more fish will be in the water for all to catch and eat.


Black sea bass (like this 22” fish caught off Newport, RI this month); summer flounder and red snapper will likely be the first species to utilize new calibrated MRIP data in their stock assessments.