NOAA Fisheries convened a peer review of a calibration model proposed by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) to support its planned transition from the legacy Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS) to a new mail Fishing Effort Survey (FES). Both surveys collect data needed to estimate marine recreational fishing effort (number of fishing trips) by shore and private/rental boat anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The peer review workshop provided an assessment of the model developed by MRIP to account for consistent differences between the two surveys in their statistical estimates of fishing effort.

The product of the workshop will be a summary documenting panel opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed calibration model. The peer review included reviewers appointed by the Center for Independent Experts, as well as reviewers selected by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils. The workshop notice was published in the Federal Register on June 21. Questions submitted electronically were addressed, as time allowed, in the public comment period at the end of each day.

In 2015, NOAA Fisheries began a three-year process of side-by-side testing of the new FES against the current CHTS. The new mail-based FES uses angler license and registration information as one way to identify and contact anglers (supplemented with data from the U.S. Postal Service, which includes virtually all U.S. households). In 2018, the FES will replace the CHTS, which uses random-digit dialing of homes in coastal counties to contact anglers. The three-year side-by-side testing is being used because the two methods are so different, and produce different results. 

Early studies indicated, and subsequent follow-up has confirmed, that, on average, fishing effort estimates for the FES will be higher — and in some cases substantially higher — than the CHTS estimates. This results from doing a better job of measuring fishing activity, rather than to a sudden rise in fishing effort. The calibration model will enable us to adjust historic effort estimates to accurately compare them with new estimates from the FES. It is important to note that higher effort numbers do not necessarily mean that there are fewer fish to catch. It is equally important to note that NOAA Fisheries will not use estimates from the FES until the agency can make accurate comparisons to past estimates and determine how to apply them to stock assessments and annual catch limits.

Given the potential of the new estimates to substantially affect many facets of science and management, NOAA Fisheries recognized the need for a comprehensive Transition Plan, led by a Transition Team, to shift from the CHTS to the FES. The agency identified Transition Team members who include experts from state natural resource agencies, regional fishery management councils, interstate marine fisheries commissions, and NOAA Fisheries. This team was charged with producing a transition strategy for replacing the CHTS with the FES. The Transition Plan ensures that the revised estimates of effort and catch are incorporated into stock assessments and management as soon as possible, recognizing not everything can be done at once. This includes updating catch estimates originally derived from the CHTS by calibrating them to the FES method.