Report: Collecting data for recreational fishing has substantially improved

Commerce Department study found current methods would help realize improved fish counts estimates.

NATIONWIDE — A report published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) found a data-gathering program designed to study statistical trends in recreational fishing has been sufficiently redesigned to result in improved fish count estimates.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, said substantial progress has been made in how fish count estimates are assessed.

“The overall statistical soundness of the redesigned program is expected to lead to better estimates of total fish caught,” a NASEM statement about its study said.

NASEM focused its study on recommendations it made to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2006. The recommendations specifically aimed to redesign the NMFS survey program – Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey, or MRFSS – to strengthen the quality of data collected.

Based upon the recommendations, the staff at NMFS created a new data-collection plan known as Marine Recreational Information Survey. The redesigned survey collected fishing data on trips made and species caught. Anglers were contacted, for example, as soon as they arrived at shore or other boat access points and asked about the just completed fishing trip.

Also implemented was the Fishing Effort Survey, which connected with anglers via mail survey. The survey, for example, included specific questions about fishing locations.

“Although many of the major recommendations from the 2006 report have been addressed, some challenges remain, such as incorporating technological advances for data collection and enhancing communication with anglers and some other stakeholders,” NASEM staff stated.

Some anglers refuse to participate in the survey process, NASEM staff added, posing one statistical challenge. Other challenges include language barriers or a lack of responses to mail surveys.

“Such missing values may affect estimates if the behavior of non-responding fishers is different from those who participate in the survey,” NASEM staff stated, adding anglers might dodge participation because they may not be fully aware of the national research program.

NASEM suggested a national communications strategy could be implemented to help address some of the shortcomings found in its most recent assessment.

Nonetheless NASEM stated advancements have been made in the way recreational fishing data is collected.

“[The Marine Recreational Information Program] has made significant improvements in gathering information through redesigned surveys, strengthening the quality of data,” NASEM stated after releasing its study.

Collected data of recreational fishing activity is necessary to assess and manage fisheries, according to NASEM.

“Although individual anglers – people who fish recreationally – generally take small numbers of fish, collectively, a large number of them can have a substantial impact on the overall stock,” NASEM staff said in a published statement. “For some species, the recreational catch even exceeds the amount taken by the commercial sector. Because recreational fishing involves so many individuals fishing from many different locations, it is difficult to estimate the number of fish caught.”

(NOAA photo)

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