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Demands for Better Fish Stock Assessments Gain Traction

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

Good news for fishing boat dealers and millions of saltwater anglers in Gulf of Mexico states comes from NOAA Fisheries in an announcement that it will address concerns and make improvements to recreational fishing data-collection programs.

It’s something boating and fishing interests have been pushing for a long time. Specifically, NOAA Fisheries and its Gulf of Mexico partners have taken an important step toward incorporating state recreational catch estimates into the federal stock assessment and management process. At a recent meeting, the organizations agreed to pursue a two-track transition toward the full use of state data.

The first track will include calibration that allows estimates from one survey to be expressed in the same units of another which, until now, hasn’t been the case. In other words, data from surveys by Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will be incorporated in regional stock assessments.

This new approach will ensure states’ data is used in a compatible way with historic estimates produced by NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program, a suite of catch and fishing effort estimates that measures the number of trips saltwater anglers take and how many fish they catch.

Clearly, the coordination and incorporation of multiple recreational fishing data streams is expected to provide more accurate fish stock assessments in the future, something recreational anglers claim has been missing until now.

Track two involves examination of error sources that may be driving critical differences between data collection programs. According to NOAA Fisheries, understanding these differences will help identify improvements to both state and federal recreational fishing surveys. The goal is simple and direct: to bring all estimates closer together.

More specifically, short- and long-term fishing research priorities will be informed by recommendations from a team of statistical consultants. It’s also important to recognize this will also meet the terms of a Congressional directive to assess and improve the accuracy and precision of federal and state recreational fishing surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.

To facilitate the transition process, all participants have agreed that the state agencies will store their raw recreational fishing data and calculate catch and effort estimates in a common database. The partners all committed to develop the associated data standards together.

“Managing our marine resources well is of vital importance to anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dave Donaldson, Executive Director of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. “We believe that this collaborative approach of state, federal, and fishery management council staff, all working together to address concerns and make improvements to recreational fishing data collection programs, is going to result in the highest quality data possible used in fisheries science and management.”

Bottom line: This collaborative effort has been a long time coming, but now that it’s here it will ultimately ensure the highest quality data possible on which to base every conservation and management decision concerning the valuable reef fish species in the Gulf.

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