...or why we need a National Saltwater Angler Registry.
So now you know that you need to register with NOAA (or have a saltwater licenses from an approved state) in order to fish for striped bass in Maine on New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Why? The frequent lament of some anglers is that this new requirement is just another money grab by the federal government or an example of more meddling by Washington in matters best left to individual states. Here's the story.
NOAA is the federal organization charged with managing marine fisheries. They submitted their recreational fisheries data collection program, known as MRFSS, to the National Research Council for review. The NRC is a private, non-profit, independent agency chartered by Congress. The scientists who contribute to NRC studies volunteer their time. The organization has a well deserved, excellent reputation within the scientific community. In 2006 the NRC came back to NOAA with a report that said they weren't doing good science. It wasn't an indictment of their efforts but rather of their systems. Their sampling methods needed significant improvement.
Under the MRFFS program, one of NOAA's primary data collection methods was the Coastal Household Telephone Survey. NOAA (or state) reps made random calls to households in coastal counties to collect data on recreational fishing by members of that household. Did I ever get one of these calls? No. Could I have received one of these calls. No. Why? Because I don't have a land-line. I use a mobile phone as my only phone and the survey had no way to track cell phone users who resided in coastal counties only. One of the other flaws in this program is that saltwater anglers who didn't live in a county bordering the ocean were never called. The striper fanatic from Farmington, Maine or Worcester, Massachusetts was never going to get a call. Neither was the person from Ohio who spent two weeks on Martha's Vineyard fishing the Derby. What would significantly improve NOAA's ability to efficiently collect data from saltwater anglers? The NRC said "their names and contact info".
As a migratory bird hunter, state and federal agencies have my name, address and phone number. They send me requests for information and wing samples. They ask me questions about my previous season's efforts and harvest when I renew my license. My wife is not a migratory bird hunter. They don't waste their efforts asking her about the number of woodcock that she harvested last year but they do capture that data from every person in the country who legally hunts woodcock. By sharing information between federal and state agencies, the people managing our migratory gamebird populations have a national database of migratory gamebird hunters. The NRC said that NOAA needed the same thing.
The Coastal Household Telephone Survey was not the only flawed program that the NRC flagged and the need for a national database of saltwater anglers was not the only change that they recommended. More on those topics in another post. When Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2007, it told NOAA to implement many of the changes recommended by the NRC, including the creation of a national angler database. NOAA's stated preference is to have the coastal states enact registry or licensing requirements that meet their data collection needs and then share the contact info. Until all of the states do so, NOAA has created the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and the National Saltwater Angler Registry. Their goal is to be more efficient in collecting more complete info such as who fishes, what's being caught, how many fish are being caught and when and where people are fishing.
Sound management of any natural resource depends upon sound science. Without good data, you can't have good science, thus the reference to chicken salad. Sound management is also based upon social and economic values and decisions. The data that NOAA looks to collect from those of us who fish in saltwater is also used to determine the social and financial value or worth of our coastal fisheries. I know that I want to be counted. How about you?
Capt. Peter Fallon