Improved Angler Catch Data on the Horizon in the South Atlantic

  • The federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) struggles with providing good catch estimates in fisheries with relatively short harvest seasons.
  • While states in the Gulf of Mexico have supplemented or replaced MRIP with their own data collection program for some fisheries, states in the South Atlantic region are looking to NOAA Fisheries to develop a permit and reporting system to increase MRIP’s precision.

Why it matters: The ability to collect accurate, reliable information on recreational fishing effort and harvest is challenging in the southeastern United States. MRIP is a broad, general survey over two-month windows that does not have the ability to adequately sample angling effort in fisheries with a relatively short season. This uncertainty in the data leads to higher estimates of harvest in an attempt to ensure that quotas are not exceeded. Increasing the accuracy of MRIP information would be beneficial for many fisheries in the South Atlantic, particularly the red snapper fishery. 

On February 9, the Private Recreational Reporting Working Group of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) met to finalize a set of recommendations for collecting better data on the recreational catch in the snapper grouper fishery. The current design of the federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) does a poor job of providing reliable estimates of harvest and discard mortality in short-event fisheries like the South Atlantic red snapper fishery, which currently has seasons lasting only a few days.

MRIP is a survey that was designed to collect data on recreational fisheries across multiple species over time. It’s good for providing trend data, but it is not capable of measuring catch during a very short window or accurately estimating how many fish are released alive, a percentage of which will die, and an estimate of those dead discards is counted toward the overall fishing mortality. Without knowing how many people are actually fishing for red snapper or bottom fish in general, it is difficult to estimate landings, fish that are released, and of those fish released, how many die. 

The recommendations that the working group will present to the Council includes developing a federal permit system for South Atlantic anglers in the snapper grouper fishery, as well as options for a reporting requirement for those permit holders. As stated in the Preliminary Recommendations document the working group reviewed, “The purpose of a recreational permit for snapper grouper fishing is to identify the universe of snapper grouper anglers to improve sampling and catch estimates.”

However, while a federal permit and new reporting requirements would provide much needed improvement to the precision of MRIP estimates, it fails to address the issue of having timely data for in-season management. MRIP surveys are conducted in two-month waves, with several more weeks of data analysis required after that wave has ended. It is not an efficient system for monitoring catch to a quota when there’s only a few days or weeks in a season.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation has some reservations as to whether a federal permit is the right path to better data and will be engaged in the process as the recommendations proceed in the form of a fishery management plan amendment before the Council.

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