Friday, June 14, 2019

Recreational Data Collection

Data collected from recreational anglers plays an important role in determining the health of fish stocks. Harvest, especially as it relates to fishing effort, can help fisheries scientists identify trends in fish populations over time. These fisheries-dependent data are also used to predict future fishing behavior as fishing seasons are set based on past trends in fishing activity. Finally, these data are used to monitor harvest during a fishing year, which is particularly important for species that are managed with a quota. In-season monitoring of fishing activity prevents overfishing because a season can be closed when a quota is met.
The recreational fishing sector includes both private fishermen and fisherman on for-hire trips. The Council and NOAA Fisheries are currently working to implement new electronic reporting requirements for all federally permitted for-hire vessels in the Gulf. Soon, all for-hire vessels will need to be equipped with hardware that, at minimum, archives vessel location once per hour. Federal for-hire operators will also be required to hail-out each time their vessel leaves the dock and submit an electronic fishing report for each trip prior to offloading fish. These new data collection requirements are expected to vastly improve our understanding of the catch and effort from anglers for-hire fishing trips.

Unfortunately, the collection of private recreational fishing data is more complicated. The universe of recreational fishermen and their fishing effort is hard to define, and directly tracking the activity and harvest of such a large, diverse population is not practical.
Photo: Rosemary White
Why is it hard to figure out how much recreational fishing there is?
Many people assume that private recreational fishing effort can be quantified by simply counting fishing licenses. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.  For starters, not all fishermen are required to be licensed; in many states, you don’t need a license if you’re over 60 or under 16.  Also, licenses don’t distinguish between fishermen targeting federal species and fishermen targeting state managed species.  Finally, some fishermen fish frequently and some fish only on rare occasions; the actual fishing effort of different anglers cannot be estimated based on possession of a license. 

There is a surprisingly simple way to determine what the private recreational sector is catching on average:  Fishing Effort x Catch = Harvest. For years, the federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) was used to collect information on the average effort and average catch of anglers across all coasts of the United States. Since it’s not practical to ask every private recreational angler what they’ve caught each time they go fishing, fisheries scientists use a sample of the entire population of anglers to estimate the activity of the entire fishery. Fishing effort is determined using mail surveys, and average catch is determined by sampling angler catch as a fishing trip is completed. However, this recreational data collection system has been criticized because it relies on a sample to determine the behavior of the entire population.

At this point, there is no practical way to get information about the activity of every single private recreational fisherman. In recent years however, each of the Gulf states have developed their own data collection programs to enhance our understanding of recreational harvest. In fact, Louisiana’s program has replaced MRIP in its state and the other state programs supplement the current MRIP data. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida have all been certified by MRIP for at least some species. This means the data they collect are useful for management. Texas has always collected and reported its own recreational data and continues to do so. The following is an overview of the different private angler data collection programs used in the Gulf:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Creel Survey
TPWD produces harvest estimates for all salt water species through a combination of trip-end interviews and roving counts of empty boat trailers and wet slips at boat-access sites. The program conducts over 13,200 interviews and 120 roving counts per year.

Photo: Cowboy Charters
Louisiana LA Creel
LWDF produces weekly harvest estimates of all saltwater species based on interviews at public fishing access points coupled with phone and email surveys. Each week, the department completes 31 access point assignments and surveys 1,200 inshore anglers and 400 offshore anglers. 

Mississippi Tails and Scales
MDMR collects red snapper specific catch and effort data using a mandatory electronic reporting system validated by dockside intercepts. This system creates a near real-time estimate of harvest that is reported to NOAA fisheries on a bi-weekly basis. One angler per vessel trip is required to hail-out and declare when they will be fishing for red snapper and where they’ll be launching. This generates an authorization code that allows them to retain red snapper.  Upon completion of the trip, anglers must report their red snapper to ‘close’ the trip. Anglers are not authorized for a new trip until their last trip report is finalized.

Photo: Hubbard's Marina
Alabama Snapper Check
Alabama Marine Resource Division requires the captain/owner of recreational or charter vessels to report harvest of red snapper before landing. Reports can be submitted via online web page, smart phone application, standard touch tone telephone, or by written forms placed in drop boxes provided at certain boating access locations. Alabama Marine Resources Division staff visit coastal marinas and boat launches to validate reports by interviewing anglers with red snapper catches. 

Florida Gulf Reef Fish Survey
FWC requires anglers targeting reef fish species in the Gulf to sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey. FWC then uses the database of Gulf reef fishermen to conduct a mail survey to estimate fishing effort on a monthly basis. FWC also uses dockside interviews to determine the number and type of fish landed and released, and also to collect information on size, weight, and age of fish harvested.

The Council, NOAA Fisheries, and each Gulf State continue to work to find new, innovative ways to improve the accuracy of private recreational angler data. Self-reported angler information, offshore fishing permits, electronic logbooks, and many other methods are being considered as ways to enhance our recreational data collection. Improved fisheries dependent data will contribute to more accurate stock assessments and allow for more precise quota monitoring, however, it may never paint the entire picture of what’s going on beneath the waves.

Friday, May 24, 2019

June Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet the first week in June at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Miramar Beach, Florida.  The meeting will be held June 3 – June 6 in the Bayside Ballroom. You’re welcome to join us in person or watch a live broadcast of the meeting.

Public comment will be held on Wednesday, June 5, from 2:00-5:30 p.m. If you can’t testify in person, visit our “Amendments Under Development” webpage to learn about what we’re working on and submit your comments.  

Immediately following the Council session on Monday June 3rd, Manna Fish Farms will be conducting a stakeholder workshop on its Finfish Aquaculture Operations in the Gulf.

Also, the U.S. Government Accountability Office is conducting a study on allocation reviews for mixed use fisheries. They would like to meet with fishery stakeholders to discuss mixed-use fisheries allocations and will be conducting interviews Monday through Wednesday for those interested. A signup sheet will be posted outside the Council meeting space. Please direct any questions to

The meeting agenda and meeting materials will help you prepare. The following is a summary of some of the issues the Council plans to discuss:

Carryover of Unharvested Quota
The Council is expected to take final action on an amendment that considers allowing uncaught annual catch limit to be carried over and added to the next year’s harvest for reef fish and coastal migratory pelagics. Quota available for carryover would have to be adjusted to account for natural mortality and other factors such as management uncertainty.

Greater Amberjack Commercial Trip Limits
The Council will consider taking final action on a Framework amendment that considers reducing the commercial trip limit for greater amberjack. This action is expected to increase the length of the commercial fishing season for greater amberjack.

Modifications to Commercial Individual Fishing Quota Programs
The Council will review a draft of Amendment 36B which considers modifying the commercial individual fishing quota programs. The proposed actions include requiring shareholders to have a federal permits, distributing shares that have been reclaimed by NMFS, establishing a quota bank, and requiring accuracy in the weight estimates provided in advance landings notifications. 

For-Hire Red Snapper Annual Catch Target Buffer
The Council will work on a Framework Action that considers reducing the buffer between the federal for-hire component annual catch limit and annual catch target.  A previous framework action modified the buffer by reducing it from 20% to 9% for 2019 only. Reducing the buffer on a more permanent basis is expected to allow a greater harvest while continuing to constrain landings to the for-hire component annual catch limit.

Gray Snapper
The Council will continue work on an amendment that considers the criteria used to determine the overfishing and overfished status of gray snapper, and the annual catch limits for the stock. The most recent gray snapper stock assessment determined that gray snapper is experiencing overfishing and may be overfished. The actions in the document will set values that will be used to determine stock status for gray snapper and adjust the annual catch limits.

Exempted Fishing Permits
The Council will review an Exempted Fishing Permit Application that would allow for a new bycatch reduction device to be tested in the shrimp fishery.