Sportfishing Community Reacts to NOAA’s Announcement on Data Program Failure

NOAA study finds its own estimates inflated 30 – 40%; marine recreational catch data program in need of overhaul

Washington, D.C. – September 11, 2023 – Today, the nation’s leading recreational fishing and marine conservation organizations released a white paper on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) findings that its Marine Recreational Information Program – Fishing Effort Survey (MRIP-FES) may be overestimating recreational catch and effort data by 30 – 40%.

The Marine Recreational Information Program is a NOAA program that provides estimates of recreational fishing catches and trips that occur from Maine to Mississippi and Hawaii. These data are used to assess and manage state and federal fisheries in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Hawaii.

A recent pilot study conducted by NOAA found that MRIP-FES may be overestimating recreational catch and effort data by 30 – 40%. This is the third time in 13 years serious issues have been uncovered in NOAA’s recreational fishery data program.

Many states have demonstrated the capability of developing survey programs to estimate recreational catch and effort data with more precision than MRIP. NOAA needs to work with all states to identify the best steps forward including the opportunity to transition some or all recreational data collection to the states and how to best provide support (i.e., funding) to states that lead data collection improvements.

Some states may not be ready to transition to their own data collection program for estimates of effort. For those states, NOAA must collaborate with states and stakeholders on needed reforms to recreational data collection, many of which were identified in a recent National Academy of Sciences report. At the same time, NOAA must also pursue meaningful investments in the development and implementation of recreational management improvements.

“NOAA has had multiple chances to fix management of recreational fisheries, and it has failed every time. A ready alternative exists in states that have already taken steps to develop better recreational data than the feds have ever had,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “It’s time to stop making the same mistakes, stop wasting taxpayer money, and stop causing chaos in recreational fisheries management and coastal communities. It’s time for all parties to work together to properly fund state efforts to manage recreational fisheries.”

“The recreational fishing community’s confidence in federal fisheries data couldn’t be lower,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Achieving fisheries management that balances conservation and access, and that anglers can trust, requires fundamental changes to how these data are collected. Additionally, recognizing the inherent challenges in gathering recreational catch data at a level of precision needed to meet statutory management requirements, managers need to look to alternative management approaches such as what is being deployed in the Mid-Atlantic for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass.”

“Yet another major revision to the federal recreational data collection system is upon us, and it should bring a realization that NOAA is just not capable of doing this job,” said Ted Venker, conservation director of Coastal Conservation Association. “At best we are looking at several more years of questionable revisions, recalculations, and recalibrations based on a suspect data system that has never proven it can produce accurate information. This is no way to manage a public resource. It would be irresponsible to continue down this road rather than exploring and supporting state-based options to better manage the recreational sector wherever feasible.”

“In 2013, I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives that MRIP was a good general survey but that it would never provide the data accuracy and reliability we need for managing the recreational sector to annual catch limits. MRIP continues to prove my point a decade later,” said Chris Horton, Senior Director, Fisheries Policy for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We are encouraged that the administration at NOAA Fisheries is embracing state data programs as a better path forward, at least in the Gulf. However, each year it becomes more obvious that the increasingly ineffective federal management model of managing to a theoretical annual quota based largely on old catch data is truly the elephant in the room.”