On January 10, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released their Review of the Marine Recreational Information Program (known as MRIP). The report takes a comprehensive look at how well MRIP is doing in its goal of “modernizing the survey methods to reduce bias, increase efficiency, and build greater trust with the recreational angling community.”
The report shows that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is moving in the right direction toward improving recreational fishing catch data, and it reaffirms the statistical significance of the data. The report, however, also states that the agency needs to communicate better with the recreational fishing community about the reliability of the data.
Although MRIP has made significant strides forward, there is always room for improvement. One area that is ripe for deployment is electronic monitoring. Several pilot programs, including private angler reporting applications useable on tablets and smartphones, can help NMFS gather more robust effort data.
The Network sees the value in angler-lead initiatives, such as iAngler, iSnapper and others emerging along all coasts of the U.S., that can help augment – not replace – MRIP. These programs can help round out the larger understanding of recreational fishing impacts and get anglers more involved in the process of collecting real-time data.
While acknowledging that challenges exist, the Network encourages MRIP to do more in the area of electronic monitoring. The NAS report echoes this and notes several improvements to make.
The Network believes that improving science-based assessments, accurate catch accounting and efficient data management in both the recreational and commercial sectors are essential to achieving healthier oceans and more productive fisheries. Accurate, timely, and transparent stock assessments, which are dependent on the types of data produced by MRIP, enable fishery scientists and managers to set appropriate and effective catch limits for fisheries and better manage our marine resources.
These stock assessments require reliable species identification and accurate accounting of the amount of fish caught. Stock assessments also need timely data from fishery-independent state and federal scientific stock surveys. Deficits in any of these areas of data collection compromise the nation’s ability to manage our marine resources well, and to achieve sustainable and predictable fisheries and healthy marine ecosystems.
The Network recommends that:
- NMFS and the regional fishery management councils expand electronic catch monitoring in commercial and recreational fisheries by moving beyond pilot projects in the commercial sector and supporting recreational angler-lead initiatives.
- Increased use of third-party contractors should be allowed in order to reduce program costs, increase efficiency and improve data timeliness.
- All data used for stock assessments, with controls to ensure that proprietary fishing information is protected, should be readily accessible for external reviews by qualified scientists.
- A comprehensive external audit of NMFS data management systems should be conducted to determine consistency with best practices and to make recommendations for increased efficiencies, including the creation of a national data management and catch accounting system.
As we work to ensure that our oceans and those who rely on them can successfully meet the emerging challenges of the future, we know that by improving and expanding electronic data collection and management in both commercial and recreational sectors we are better able to account for the impacts fishing has on our coastal marine ecosystems and fisheries. Improving science-based assessments, catch accounting, and data management are one of the essential pieces needed to achieve healthier oceans, more productive fisheries and more prosperous waterfronts.