Every Fish Counts
Surveys Help Gauge Impact of Recreational Fishing
By Richard Davis
Fish Eye News
Nov. 2008 Archive
When Doug Mumford was a teenager, he enjoyed fishing for flounder and speckled trout at Wrightsville Beach.
“I spent all my summers there,” said Mumford. “My mother would drop me off at the pier on her way to work each morning. It was a great way to spend the summer.”
Like any angler, the number and size of the fish caught were always part of the tale of any fishing trip. Looking back, he had no idea he would spend more than 30 years of his life tabulating fish catches in North Carolina’s coastal waters.
Mumford leads the Division of Marine Fisheries’ efforts gathering and analyzing recreational fishing statistics. He began his career with the division in 1978 as a commercial port agent, and in 1987 his work shifted to organize the division’s participation in the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey, or MRFSS. Today, Mumford supervises a staff that includes 17 recreational samplers who work with MRFSS, the Highly Migratory Species Catch Card Survey, the Recreational Commercial Gear License Survey, the Central-Southern Management Area Survey Striped Bass Survey, the For-Hire Survey, and a new project that is being tested.
That’s a lot of surveys counting a lot of fish, and they are all needed to accurately gauge the impact of the millions of recreational anglers who have enjoyed fishing in North Carolina’s coastal waters during the past several decades.
The data collection process relies on a number of key elements. At the front lines of the division’s efforts are the recreational samplers.
“Their training is fairly substantial, and starts with our selection process,” Mumford said. “Our folks have to be good communicators and possess good fish identification skills.
“Our samplers go out to randomly selected sites throughout the coast and collect data by interviewing anglers about their fishing trips. They also weigh and measure their catch. Each sampler is given a schedule at the beginning of the month that indicates places to go,” he said.
The information collected by the samplers is only part of the process that leads to the final numbers presented as North Carolina’s recreational landings.
“It’s a little complicated, but to boil it down, we determine what the average catch of a particular species is from the dockside interviews,” Mumford said. “This gives us an average catch per angler trip.
“From another survey, the Angler License Directory Survey, we find out how many trips are taken,” he said. “Now we know what the average catch per trip is and how many trips are taken, so we multiply those numbers to get an estimate of overall catch. The details of the process are more complicated, but those are the basics.”
Anglers play an important part in this process, whether they are contacted during or after their fishing trips or by phone. The division interviews about 45,000 anglers and recreational fishermen each year. That’s a considerable increase from the 7,000 anglers the division contacted back in 1989, but Mumford would like to see more.
One area where he sees room for improvement is the Coastal Recreational Fishing License because the license application does not require a phone number.
“Only about 50 percent of the anglers provide it, so we really only have the ability to contact about half of the recreational fishing community. This impacts how good our estimates of fishing trips are.”
When all the numbers are tallied, the data provided by the anglers and collected by recreational samplers helps shape North Carolina’s fishery management plans for finfish.
“We provide recreational data for all finfish (fishery management) plans and we hope to greatly improve the quality and scope of our contributions,” Mumford said.