A "for hire" fishing vessel
A "for hire" fishing vessel

Project contacts: Dave Martins , John Boardman , Matt Ayer

Since 1981 recreational fisheries catch and harvest data has been collected along the United States Atlantic Coast through the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS), administered at the coastal level by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Beginning in 2012 the program was renamed MRIP which stands for the Marine Recreational Information Program.  This federal program collects catch and effort data through a two part survey. A random coastal household telephone survey (CHTS) is used to estimate the number of angler trips within a state during a two month time period (wave) by fishing mode. Fishing modes are shore, private/rental boat, charter boat and head boat anglers. See Figure 1 for a plot of Massachusetts angler trip estimates over time.

A MarineFisheries biologist measuring an angler's catch
A MarineFisheries biologist measuring an angler's catch

The other primary element of the program, the Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS), uses field interviewers to intercept private mode fishermen at coastal locations at the completion of their fishing trip. Similarly, for the party and charter boat anglers the For Hire Survey estimates effort from wave level reports from a sample of head boat and charter boat owners or captains, and catch from directed party boat trip patron sampling. Charter boat patrons are intercepted at the dock in the same manner as shore and private boat anglers at the completion of their trip.

Directed at-sea sampling of the For Hire (Head Boat) mode began in 1995 as an experiment by the state of Maine, to improve the quality of the estimates of catch and effort from that sector of the recreational fishery. The methods used then spread to the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and California based on the success of that survey.  In the summer of 2003, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MarineFisheries), as well as nine other coastal states became part of the For Hire Survey program. At that time Massachusetts DMF biologists began sea sampling of head boat catch. Only party vessels are sampled at sea due to vessel space limitations. Since 2003 DMF has continued to sample only the head boat fleet. In 2013 DMF will expand the agency’s involvement to the APAIS for the remaining recreational fishing modes.

In addition to demographic and avidity information APAIS interviewers obtain actual catch data on species and numbers caught, species and numbers discarded, and obtain a limited number of length and weight measurements of whole harvested fish. The catch data in turn is applied to the effort data and adjusted with various correction factors to estimate the total numbers of fish caught and released for most recreationally important marine species. See Figure 2 for the estimates of Massachusetts angler’s striped bass catch and harvest over time. These data are used extensively by fisheries biologists and managers to assess species stock conditions and for analysis of potential management measures such as bag limits, seasons and possession sizes. 

In 2012 catch estimation methods were changed to address statistical sampling issues associated with intercept site selection. Beginning in 2013,  major changes will be made to the program and APAIS field sampling will take place 24 hours a day in six hour time blocks. In addition, the effort survey will be revised to use information from the Federal Saltwater Angler Registry, which is populated with information from the state’s new saltwater fishing permit database.

Presently a biologist from our New Bedford office coordinates the sampling of over thirty Massachusetts party vessels by nine additional DMF biologists. Vessels and sampling dates are drawn at random from a vessel directory of active vessels by a contractor to the NMFS (Research Triangle Institute). Sea sampling takes place from April through November with approximately eight vessel trips per month, two interviewers per trip. On average, twelve anglers per trip, per interviewer, are randomly selected for the interview process.  A similar random draw process will be used to select interview sites for shore side sampling.

During the APAIS intercepts selected anglers are asked a short list of questions concerning their fishing practices and demographics. The demographic information is largely used to direct the telephone effort survey. All information gathered is confidential and known only to the interviewers and data entry personnel. Beyond that level these data are available to end users only in aggregate form with individual angler information removed. On shore based interviews anglers are intercepted at the end of their fishing activity. On head boat trips a subset of selected anglers is also observed during fishing to measure  and enumerate discarded catch.

The Division hopes to improve the quality of the data as well as improving our contact with our recreational saltwater fishing constituents by expanding our participation to the entire APAIS survey. In addition, through participation in the full APAIS survey the agency becomes and remains a true partner in the collection of critical marine recreational fisheries data along with the federal government, the other coastal states and the angling public.

Massachusetts Recreational Fishing Trip 1982-2011   Massachusetts' Striped Bass Harvest and Catch 1982-2011