NOAA Bombshell! Angler Effort Surveys Still Flawed

NOAA Fisheries admitted that their new Fishing Effort Survey (FES) used to estimate recreational saltwater participation along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico is likely overestimating angler effort by as much as 30 to 40%.

In a conference call with recreational fishing stakeholders on August 7, 2023, NOAA Fisheries admitted that their new Fishing Effort Survey (FES) used to estimate recreational saltwater participation along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico is likely overestimating angler effort by as much as 30 to 40%.

Launched in 2015 as part of the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) which replaced the earlier harvest/effort survey known as MRFSS (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey), the FES uses mail surveys administered for six independent two-month reference waves.  According to an FES 2018 Annual Report, these surveys utilize address-based samples within coastal states to collect information about recreational saltwater fishing activity, with “sample frames” consisting of all residential addresses within coastal states serviced by the U.S. Postal Service.

MRFSS was ultimately replaced by MRIP following a 2006 study by the National Academy of Sciences and its National Research Council (NRC) that found the old survey method to have “serious flaws in design or implementation and use inadequate analysis methods that need to be addressed immediately.” Pat Sullivan, the NRC committee chair at the time referred to MRFSS specifically as “fatally flawed” and the NRC findings ultimately led to a mandate by Congress that a new survey methodology be implemented by NOAA Fisheries.

The latest acknowledgement by NOAA Fisheries and its Office of Science and Technology comes by way of a May, 2023 report called Evaluating Measurement Error in the MRIP Fishing Effort Survey using several pilot studies and data analyses to evaluate non-sampling errors in the survey design.  Results of the ongoing series of studies indicate that the order in which certain questions are presented in the surveys mailed to anglers “may not be optimal in terms of reducing ‘telescoping error’” which is a statistical way of saying “over-reporting.”  NOAA Fisheries said anglers responding to the mail-in survey may not be reviewing the entire questionnaire and therefore are improperly answering certain “bounding questions” (12-month shore and boat fishing) that would help to reduce telescoping error.

According to Evan Howell, Director of NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology, the federal fisheries service collects private recreational fishing trip information for each resident of a responding household using a list of residential addresses from the U.S. Post Office which is matched to the National Saltwater Angler Registry derived from state licenses and registrations.  “The FES is part of a group of surveys NOAA Fisheries uses to estimate total recreational catch,” Howell said, explaining how the ordering of questions contained within those surveys may lead to significant bias.  “The results of this study suggest that the order of the questions in this survey may lead to over-estimation of fishing effort,” Howell stated.

Explaining the process to stakeholders, Howell said the current FES questionnaire first asks people to report their fishing activities over a 2-month period, and then a 12-month period.  However, the pilot study report from May of 2023 reversed the order of those two questions, with rather significant results.  “This pilot study concluded that the revised question order resulted in fewer observed reporting errors and illogical responses, where there was more fishing done in the 2-month period than in a 12-month period, and the resulting effort estimates were generally 30 to 40 percent lower for shore and private boat modes than produced for the current FES design,” Howell stated.

Continue reading at www.thefisherman.com

Keep your finger on the fishing industry pulse

The Definititive News Source of the Fishing & Marine Industry