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October 08, 2008

Feet to the Fire

Revamped data collection means more accurate fisheries management nationwide.

One of the problems is that a starting point needs to be determined - a stake in the sand, so to speak. In order to have annual catch limits, there has to be an allocation of fish to recreational anglers. If there has been a problem with the data collection in the past, how do we make a fair and equitable estimate of what the catch has been? MRIP will not be fully operational for a few years, so we are going to have to rely on MRFSS data. Some, like Capt. Frank Blount, owner of the Frances Fleet out of Pt. Judith, Rhode Island, think that the catch estimates are extremely low. Others feel that catches have been overestimated by bias in the data collection. The problem is that they might all be correct, depending on the species. The existing data will be used to make the initial allocations, and that should leave a lot of recreational anglers wondering what the real numbers are.

So now, according to federal law, our collective feet will be held to the fire, even though the only data that will be used to decide how much we can catch in the future has been determined to be problematic. That is a major reason we need to have the MRIP program on line as soon as possible. Once MRIP is operational, there will have to be some mechanism to revisit these first allocations, since they might be way off the mark. It should also be stated that since the data could be off in either direction, recreational anglers could see drastic cuts as well as increases, but changing allocations either way will not be easy.

The new MRIP initiative will coordinate data collection from the for-hire surveys, the highly migratory surveys and private-angler surveys. It will use the salt water anglers registry to do a better job of surveying actual fishermen. The new data collection system will also gather more information on released fish to help determine our overall impact. We all like to think that every released fish survives, but some do not. All of this means that managers should have a better handle on the recreational impact on our resources, which should lead to better management, better access and a better understanding of how important strong marine resources are to U.S. citizens.

Some might think that we are better off operating quietly in the shadows, but we are way past that time. Recreational anglers are part of the system, and now we have to demand the best data collection program to make sure that we get our fair share. MRIP is a very good start, and let's face it - you gotta love the name.