New record-keeping will improve saltwater fishing
by William Hogarth
Newport News Daily Press
October 13, 2007
he Virginia Marine Resources Commission has established new restrictions on striped bass fishing this fall to protect this magnificent species from being overfished. At a recent hearing on the proposal, several recreational anglers voiced concerns about the data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service that are the basis of this decision and other fisheries decisions.
Recreational fishermen have good reason to want to see data on recreational fishing improve as both state and federal regulators strive to do the best job managing fish for recreational and commercial fishing.
Congress, through the newly reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act of 2006, called on NOAA Fisheries Service to get a more complete picture of recreational fishing and its effect on the marine ecosystem. In cooperation with coastal states, we have done surveys of recreational fishing for 28 years, but the way in which this survey is done has not kept pace with the evolving need for more complete information on fishing practices and fishing results.
The existing angler survey was analyzed by the National Research Council in a recent report. The independent panel of scientists advised NOAA Fisheries to redesign its recreational fishing surveys to create more complete, transparent and usable information.
At the heart of getting better information is creating a national saltwater angler registry
. This would be a type of telephone book of all those who fish in federal waters beyond three miles or fish in the waters off states where they are likely to encounter fish such as striped bass, shad and river herring that spawn in fresh water and spend much of their lives in the ocean. The federal registry, to be instituted beginning in 2009
, will be the foundation of improved surveys of recreational fishermen and more complete data on recreational fishing.
Currently, there are eight states that have no license for saltwater fishermen. By establishing a license that collects the same contact information required by the federal registry, a state can help NOAA meet Congress' mandate for a national registry by 2009. However, with or without a state license, NOAA has promised Congress it will create the registry over the next year and a half.
Virginia already has a saltwater license, and recreational fishermen have suggested that it would be far better to survey all license-holders than the current survey method that involves random interviews by telephone of people who live in coastal communities. Going directly to fisherman for information about their fishing habits makes sense to us, too. Such an approach will only work if we have a complete listing of who is fishing. That is why NOAA Fisheries is working closely with the state of Virginia and other coastal states to ensure that every saltwater fisherman is counted.
The registry of recreational fishermen, and surveys based on this national telephone book, will help decision-makers gain a far better understanding about how much fishing can be sustained without damaging the ecosystem. High-quality data on anglers' catches and their effort will also allow more timely, fine-scale adjustments to regulations.
Ultimately, this method of collecting data will help all of us who care about the health of ocean fisheries and the sport of fishing.
With better information, NOAA Fisheries and its state partners can conserve healthy marine ecosystems for present and future generations."
William Hogarth is the Assistant Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service.