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Better Fishing

Better fishing through better data– how you make it possible

Anyone who’s ever put a line in the water and waited for a fish to strike has probably spent some time pondering this question: How many fish are down there, and how can anyone possibly know? The answer is a bit complex, but it’s worth taking some time to understand – especially for anglers who are interested in ensuring there are plenty of fish out there to catch, both today and for generations to come. If you’re a fisherman, the whole process of sustaining healthy and abundant fish stocks ultimately revolves around you.

How Does NOAA Fisheries Count Your Catch?

The Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP, is the new and better way NOAA Fisheries is collecting, analyzing, and reporting recreational fishing data.

Here’s how it works:

MRIP consists of three primary surveys.

  1. One survey is for catch, where shore-side interviewers record what people are catching, what they’ve kept and released as well as the length and weight of each fish. The catch survey results in estimates of the average number of fish caught and landed or released per trip.
  2. The second survey is a bimonthly telephone survey of shore and private boat fishing effort, where we ask residents of coastal county households how many shore and private boat fishing trips they made within the last two months.
  3. The third survey is a weekly telephone survey of charter boat fishing effort, where we ask the captains or owners of a random sample of charter boats to report recent charter fishing trips and the number of anglers who fished on each trip.

To estimate the total catch, we multiply the average number of fish caught per angler trip by the number of angler fishing trips. More detailed information about the surveys can be found at our website,

One very important thing to understand about this process is that the numbers we report are estimates, and that all estimates include an element of uncertainty. In public opinion polling, this uncertainty is often referred to as the “margin of error.” In MRIP, we use a measure called the proportional standard error, or PSE. The size of the PSE tells us how precise the estimate is; the lower the PSE, the more precise the estimate. This measurement is a critical factor in the decision-making process when scientists evaluate fish stocks, and managers consider fishing regulations.

Why a New Catch Survey?

Although we call it “new,” the survey has actually been in place since 2013. The modified catch survey design, which was tested in North Carolina prior to implementation, is based upon recommendations made in a National Research Council review of NOAA Fisheries data collection methods. The new survey procedures ensure representative sampling of all types of fishing activity by eliminating potential sources of bias.

What is Different From the Previous Survey?

Working with teams of state and NOAA scientists, outside experts, fishermen, charter boat operators, and others, we have now fixed many of the issues identified by the National Research Council.

Many of the improvements to the survey design are things that anglers might notice every day. One of these is the fact that we’re now sampling trips that end at night so we don’t have to assume that these trips have the same catch rates as ones that end during the day. Also, the survey interviewers have much more rigorous schedules to follow. Specifically, samplers stay at specified locations for a specified amount of time, regardless of the amount and types of fishing activity. This schedule ensures that all types of fishing activity are included in the survey. Finally, we’ve created an online database of every public fishing sites between Louisiana and Maine. Moving the database online means we can keep it up to date in real time if, for instance, improvements are made to a boat ramp that will make it more popular, or a fishing pier is closed due to a storm. Plus, members of the public can use the register both to find fishing sites and to give us feedback if they find information that is outdated or incorrect.

Key Takeaways for the Improved Catch Survey

  • We’ve REMOVED POTENTIAL SOURCES OF BIAS from the sampling design by better controlling where and when interviewing takes place.
  • We’re sampling during EVERY part of the day, including nighttime periods,

during both weekends and weekdays.

  • We will CONTINUE to intercept ALL eligible trips, regardless of catch. Trips with no catch are equally as valuable as trips with large catches.
  • The new sampling methods are part of a much broader, top-to-bottom overhaul to both improve the quality of our estimates and improve stakeholder confidence.
  • Future improvements to the catch surveys will address finer-scale customer needs, such as greater timeliness for estimate production and improved geographic resolution of estimates.
  • Each decision comes with a cost. Greater precision requires more sampling, which in turn requires the investment of more resources.

How You Make It All Possible …

The improvements to our catch survey represent just one example of the many changes we are making through MRIP. Working in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders, MRIP is designed to provide rigorous solutions for today’s data demands, as well as the flexibility to evolve in the future. As new science emerges, or new management needs arise, or new ideas from anglers spur innovation, MRIP will be able to adapt and respond.

Despite all the changes, however, one thing will always remain constant. We can’t fulfill our mission without the active support and participation of anglers. You are our “eyes and ears” on the water, providing us the information we need to understand what’s happening in the fishery. You are the chief stewards of our coastal and marine ecosystems, continuing a role that fishermen have played for generations. And you are a critical voice in the process, whether you testify at a Council meeting, participate in your fishing club, or answer survey questions when you’re asked. Ultimately, the goals of MRIP are the same as the goals of fishermen – to ensure that people who want to fish can fish, today and for generations to come. Maintaining that tradition rests on access to precise and trusted information. If you have any questions about this article or the MRIP program, please contact the Communications and Education Team Lead at

Every Report Counts!

A sampler interviews all eligible anglers at an assigned site. It’s just as important to interview anglers who didn’t catch any fish as it is to interview anglers who caught many fish. Both types are needed to produce representative samples of all anglers.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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