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October 08, 2008

Feet to the Fire

Revamped data collection means more accurate fisheries management nationwide.

There has been an awful lot of attention focused on the National Marine Fisheries Service's efforts to put in place a national registry of salt water anglers. Those who like to put a negative spin on it call it a federal salt water fishing license. What this interpretation overlooks is that this new data collection program can provide valuable information that will play an important role in the future of recreational fishing, which is changing as we speak.

For as many years as I have been involved in fisheries issues, recreational interests have been saying - no, screaming - that the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey was not properly measuring the recreational catch and that it should not be used as a management tool. Everyone agrees it was never designed as a management tool, but since it was the only game in town, it morphed into one of the measurements that managers have been using. Many felt this was a problem, and it appears they were correct.

Well, be careful what you ask for because all of our screaming got NMFS to hire the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council in 2005 to conduct an independent review of NMFS recreational data collection programs. Early in 2006, the NRC released its findings and announced that the MRFSS had some serious problems and basically needed to be rebuilt from the foundation up. So out of the ashes has risen a new phoenix, which is called the Marine Recreational Information Program, and like it or not, MRIP will determine our fate for the foreseeable future. The salt water registry is only one part of this program, but both are now federal mandates.