June 10, 2024

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish – How Many People Caught the Fish?

Article Contact: Chris Horton,

Why It Matters: One of the most difficult challenges with estimating recreational harvest is obtaining a reliable estimate of how many people are fishing for a given species over time. This difficulty was recently highlighted again when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last summer that the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES) is likely overestimating angler harvest by 30-40%. To try and tackle this decades-old problem, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission convened a workshop between state and federal scientists in the Gulf of Mexico last week, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) was there.


  • The federal MRIP program does a poor job of estimating how many anglers are fishing for any given species on any given day, often leading to short fishing seasons or premature season closures.
  • Using funds available through the Inflation Reduction Act, the feds and states have embarked on a series of workshops to look at new technologies to address the age-old challenge of estimating angler effort and harvest.

Last week, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, in cooperation with NOAA, convened the first of two scheduled workshops to address the highly variable and often inaccurate estimates of recreational catch provided by the current MRIP program. While all five Gulf states use their own recreational data collection programs, having a more reliable estimate of the actual number of anglers fishing for a given species on a given day would help to validate which survey, the states or NOAA’s MRIP, is providing a more dependable estimate of angler effort. Developing a better way to obtain estimates of angler effort would benefit not only the Gulf states, but recreational fisheries management nationwide.

Currently, MRIP relies on a mail survey of anglers who must recall when they have fished and what they have caught in the past. A recent discovery by NOAA indicated that simply changing the order of the mail survey questions can have a drastic influence on survey results. In fact, the current order seems to lead to estimates of angler harvest that is 30-40% higher than reality. A pilot study is underway by NOAA to determine how to modify the survey to be more realistic.

However, relying on angler recall to assess overall angler effort is still inefficient, regardless of the order of the questions. We need a better way to get a more reliable count of the anglers who actually fished over a certain timeframe. The workshop evaluated various technologies, including cameras at passes, satellite and drone imagery, and artificial intelligence technologies. However, it became clear, based on discussions of the advantages and limitations of each, that the considerable differences in state coastlines and how anglers access federally managed fisheries does not lend any one-size-fits-all approach.

The CSF-supported, highly successful state data collection programs in the Gulf already provide more timely and reliable estimates of angler effort and catch than MRIP. Allowing the states to continue to lead with any new innovations for counting anglers off their unique coastlines is the key for this initiative to be successful.

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