Survey Details

Estimating recreational fishing catch and effort for the entire United States cannot be done with a one-size-fits-all survey. NOAA Fisheries uses a suite of different surveys to capture recreational catch and effort from people who fish from the shore; private boat; for hire boats, including charter boats, headboats or party boats, and guide boats; as well as for people who target highly migratory species (HMS).

Access-Point Angler Intercept Survey

On the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the Access-Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS) is conducted at public marine fishing access points (boat ramps, piers, beaches, jettys, bridges, marinas, etc.) to collect individual catch data and information including:

  • species identification
  • total number of each species caught
  • length and weight measurements of individual fishes
  • angler-specific fishing trip information
  • angler-specific fishing behavior

Interviews are conducted in person by trained field staff, and the sites and dates are selected by a proportional random selection process such that those sites that have the most activity will be sampled most often. The sampling schedule is independently determined by fishing mode (shore fishers, charter boat fishers, or private or rental boat fishers) and target sample sizes are based on historic distributions of fishing trips (effort) and available funds.

From these angler-interviews a catch per trip (catch rate) estimate is made for each type of fish encountered, either observed or reported. These weighted cpue estimates are combined with the weighted effort estimates by sampling stratum to produce the catch and harvest estimates. Questions are also asked that provide the information to adjust for non-coastal residents' effort, fishing activity by anglers living in households without traditional landline telephone service, and charter boat anglers fishing from boats that are not in the FHS sample frame for the wave.

For more information about the APAIS, please download the survey documents below.

Coastal Household Telephone Survey

On the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS) collects fishing effort data from shore and private boat anglers. Since the majority of shore and private boat fishing trips are taken by individuals who live in coastal areas, the CHTS is limited to households located in coastal counties. Correction factors derived from the catch survey (APAIS) are used to account for trips taken by non-coastal resident and out-of-state anglers, as well as anglers who live in households without telephones.

Data collection occurs during a two-week period at the end of each two-month sample period (or "wave"). This regional annual schedule shown below has been maintained since the survey inception in 1979 although not all states, or commonwealths, have been surveyed in all years (see Coverage and Program Evolution for details). 

Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Coast of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto RicoJanuary - December (Waves 1-6)
Atlantic Coast North of Florida (excluding Maine & New Hampshire)March - December (Waves 2-6)
Maine, New HampshireMay - October (Waves 3-5)
Pacific CoastSurvey not conducted
Texas, AlaskaSurvey not conducted

The CHTS utilizes a computer-assisted, random digit dialing (RDD) approach to contact full-time residential households. Contacted households are screened to determine if any household members participated in marine recreational fishing during the previous two months, and each active angler is asked to recall the number of saltwater fishing trips that were taken during the wave, as well as provide details about each trip. Institutional housing, businesses, wireless phones, and pay phones are excluded from the survey. Within each state, sample is allocated among coastal counties in proportion to household populations.

Data from the CHTS are used to estimate the average number of trips per household for each coastal county. These estimates are then expanded by the county household population to estimate total trips. County estimates are summed and then expanded by APAIS adjustment factors to produce state-level effort estimates. All estimates are computed by fishing mode, then all mode-level estimates are aggregated to obtain the total statewide estimates.

For more information about the CHTS, please download the survey documents below.

MRIP is always working to improve our survey methods, ensuring the most accurate data is available for use. To learn more about how MRIP is improving the effort survey, click here

For-Hire Survey

On the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the For-Hire Survey (FHS) was developed to resolve undercoverage of charter and party boat angler effort by the Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS), which we've traditionally used to measure effort. The CHTS does not capture the majority of for-hire angling effort in most states because most anglers who take trips on charter and head (or Party) boats do not live in coastal counties. The FHS was implemented for Gulf Coast states in 2000 (charter boat only), and all Atlantic Coast states from Maine through Georgia in January 2003. It overlaps other charter and headboat monitoring programs, including the Northeast (Maine-Virginia) Vessel Trip Reporting Program (VTR), the Southeast Regional Headboat Survey (SRHS), various state logbook programs, and the ongoing CHTS.

The sampling unit for the FHS is not the household but the individual for-hire vessel. The sample frame is constructed from a comprehensive directory of for-hire boats for all states, from Maine through Georgia. The vessel directory consists of a vessel identifier (vessel name or registration number), the contact information for an identified vessel representative, as well as a variety of accessory information, such as eligibility and activity. Sampling is stratified by vessel type (head boat and charter boat), state, and week, within each two-month sampling wave.

Data collection is conducted on a weekly basis. Respondents are asked to report vessel fishing activity for the prior week, and then asked to profile each for-hire fishing trip. Information obtained for each trip includes area fished, number of anglers who fished, hours of actual fishing activity, method of fishing, and target species, if any. Advance notice of selection is mailed to each selected vessel representative and alternative reporting modes are provided for the Atlantic Coast respondents, including an interactive website, a fax number, and a phone contact for respondent-initiated interviewing. Effort estimates are produced from the average number of angler-trips per vessel-type per week and the number of vessels per vessel-type in the sampling frame. Adjustment factors for active for-hire fishing boats that are not in the sample frame (new to fleet, no contact information known, etc.) are produced from APAIS questions and applied to the raw effort estimate.

Vessel Trip Report (VTR) data: Data reported in the VTRs for NOAA Fisheries-permitted vessels are obtained from Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The VTR data are not used for preliminary wave-by-wave estimates, but they are included at the end of the year when the VTR data are most complete. For all federally-permitted charter boats and headboats, the total trips reported in the VTRs are used to produce an unadjusted number of angler trips.  These boats are treated as a separate “VTR boats” stratum within each for-hire boat mode. All FHS data obtained for those vessels are removed, and FHS estimates of the numbers of angler trips on non-VTR boats are re-run for each wave using the remaining FHS data. The resulting FHS estimates represent a second “non-VTR boats” stratum for each mode. 

For more information about the FHS, please download the survey documents below.

Large Pelagics Survey

On the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Virginia, NOAA Fisheries uses the Large Pelagics Survey (LPS) to measure the total recreational catch of large pelagics fish including tunas, billfish, and sharks. The LPS includes different survey components, each of which gathers the specific pieces of data needed to form the complete picture of recreational fishing activity.

Large Pelagics Intercept Survey (LPIS) – Dockside interviews with randomly selected anglers and for-hire captains returning from fishing trips targeting large pelagics. This approach is used to measure average catch per trip, average size of kept fish, and number of fish released alive. We also ask how many people fished, how long they fished for, what they were targeting, what fishing method was used, and other trip details.

Large Pelagics Telephone Survey (LPTS) – Telephone interviews with randomly selected recreational anglers and for-hire captains who hold Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permits. This approach is used to determine fishing effort, or the total number of trips taken for large pelagic species during a given period of time.

Additional biological information is gathered through the Large Pelagics Biological Survey. This supplemental dockside survey is used primarily for recreational bluefin tuna, targeting both private and for-hire boats. The survey collects length, weight, and body part samples that are used by scientists in studies of fish populations and stock assessments.

MRIP is making improvements to the LPS surveys to ensure they are free from potential sources of error or bias, and that our estimates are as accurate as they can possibly be. For the LPS, areas we're looking into include characteristics of large pelagic trips that return to private access sites, new ways to more accurately represent tournament activity, and improvements to our survey design to better match our catch estimation methods.

For more information about the LPIS and LPTS, please download the survey documents below.

Highly Migratory Species

NOAA Fisheries has a rule in place that requires mandatory reporting of all recreationally landed billfish, swordfish, and bluefin tuna. In all but two states these species are reported by Highly Migratory Species (HMS) anglers and captains either online or by phone.

The states of Maryland and North Carolina currently conduct recreational HMS catch card census programs with funding and technical support from NOAA Fisheries. All billfish, swordfish, and bluefin tuna landed recreationally in these states must have a landings tag attached prior to removal from the vessel (or from the water in the case of trailered vessels). Captains or operators of permitted vessels are required to complete a catch card for each individual billfish, swordfish and bluefin tuna landed in exchange for a landings tag. Catch cards are available at designated reporting stations located in bait and tackle shops, marinas and other locations where billfish and bluefin tuna are landed. Data collected from HMS catch card census programs are used to track in-season landings and monitor and manage these highly valued recreational fisheries.