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Call to Action: Band Together for More Accurate Fishery Estimates

A recent NOAA study revealed that the system for determining recreational angler effort and estimated fish caught could be overestimating by as much as 30 to 40 percent, prompting a push for a new approach to fishery estimations.

Call to Action: Band Together for More Accurate Fishery Estimates

In an effort to better understand current catches, fishery councils are introducing new ideas to better track fish catches, including a program that analyzes vintage fishing photos from the 1940s to 1980s to document catch details. Photo Credit: Rusty Hudson

The system for determining recreational angler effort (number of days fishing) and estimated fish caught could be overestimating by as much as 30 to 40 percent, according to recent findings by NOAA Fisheries. A pilot study revealed that simply altering the order of survey questions resulted in significant overestimations. This has big implications for fisheries management; seasons for cherished fish such as red snapper might be lengthened with more accurate counts. 

The Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) has been the methodology used for decades to gather catch data and regulate recreational anglers. Now, the very surveys themselves are going under the microscope. Some may argue that it’s long overdue. 

Stay tuned as NOAA will be rolling out a larger, more expansive test survey called MRIP FES (Fishing Effort Survey) in 2024 to see if the same inconsistencies repeat themselves. 

As for us, and how we can be part of the solution: For starters, if you see someone from NOAA at a boat ramp asking you to take a survey, take it. If you receive a survey in the mail, fill it out and send it back promptly.

hands holding phone next to fishing rod and reel over ocean water
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council launched the SciFish app to help better understand what happens to certain fish upon release, which you can apply for here: https://safmc.wufoo.com/forms/z1xo8t300lpj5vu/

But, as we’re finding out, it’s possible these surveys might not be giving our fishery managers all the information they need to make the crucial decisions we count on them to make. As anglers, we have a chance to supply fishery managers in the Gulf and Atlantic more accurate and comprehensive information. With over one million saltwater anglers in the state of Florida, we need to become the ultimate “crowdsourcing” fishery data collection machine in the country. 

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), which develops fishing regulations for federal waters based on data provided by NOAA, is developing ways in which we can help.

hand holds phone in front of scamp grouper laying in boat next to measurement ruler
Data like location, date, species, length, depth caught and release time will be collected to better study fish behavior and catch numbers through the SciFish app.

Julia Byrd, Citizen Scientist Program Director for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, told me that SAFMC is currently developing a Citizen Science Project Idea Portal. She said this online tool is scheduled to be available this year and will offer a way for members of the public to submit citizen science project ideas. Byrd said, “If any of your readers think there are potential citizen science projects that SAFMC should investigate, we will soon have a way for them to submit those ideas for consideration.”

In the meantime, SAFMC has a couple of ways in which you can immediately help fill data gaps or provide information. One option, regardless of how frequently you fish, is to apply for the free SciFish App (available on Google Play and Apple Store, login info provided after approval) to help the Council better understand what happens to certain fish upon release.

group of boys and men in front of Daytona Beach fishing charter board lined with large fish
In an effort to better understand current catches, SAFMC introduced FISHstory to better understand historic catches by using vintage fishing photos from the 1940s to 1980s to document the catch and size of fish before catch monitoring began in the 1970s. Photo Credit: Rusty Hudson

Another crowdsourcing effort by the SAFMC is trying to better understand current catches by better understanding historic catches. Byrd explained that FISHstory uses vintage fishing photos from the 1940s to 1980s to document the catch and size of fish from the charter and headboat fisheries before catch monitoring began in the 1970s. “These photos are an untapped source of data and will improve our understanding of these historic fisheries,” Byrd said. “To help the FISHstory project grow, we need more historic photos.”




group of boys and men in front of Daytona Beach fishing charter board lined with large fish
Just for fun, Florida Sportsman's Digital Editor took a crack at recoloring this old photo.

Anyone with historic fishing photos from the 1940s-1980s from the South Atlantic is invited to share them with the project for analysis. And, for those who don’t have photos, but still want to contribute, keep an eye out for the project to be relaunched in the online crowdsourcing platform, Zooniverse. Through Zooniverse, members of the public are trained to identify and count the fish in photos. The project is currently in the photo-collection phase, but in the future, photos will be uploaded to Zooniverse for analysis, and anyone is welcome to help.

For anglers on the West Coast, you too can crowdsource. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council doesn’t have an app but uses their Fisherman Feedback Tool to gather information from anglers. The Gulf Council occasionally solicits comments on particular species; recently, the Council asked fishermen for information on yellowedge grouper.

So, if you fish offshore, let’s make a crowd, and help improve our fishing. FS

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Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2023

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