Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Collection of (some) Bad Catch Estimates

Dear Reader, 
This is a collection of bad recreational catch estimates from the MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program) & MRFSS (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey). The focus here is on NJ estimates, but it necessarily runs a bit broader. 
I haven't time to cobble it together into anything sensible -- it's just a bunch of selections from past Fish Reports that currently angry fishery constituents can use to get their head around how bad MRIP/MRFSS recreational catch estimates have unglued sensibility from the regulatory process. 

A studious reader can use these to start his/her own research into "How NOAA Discovered Small Private Boats Are The REAL PROBLEM in Fisheries Restorations --- How Private Boats, especially from NJ, NY, & MA, Have Pirated Fisheries Resources Of The United States." 
Only it's not real... 
Just statistics. 
Good Luck,

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD 

Here from Fish Report 6/9/15
I have dozens of examples of bad catch estimates - big errors that caused major economic upheaval. They're very simple to find. I was a voice in the crowd for repair of recreational catch data before the 2007 re-write of Magnuson, & also for the repair to For-Hire catch estimates in 2003. My argument against bad recreational catch estimates goes back to a two week August sea bass closure in 1998. Back then NJ Party/Charter had been "found guilty" (statistically) of catching 3 million sea bass - a 1 million fish increase over their previous catch. An estimate far too high to begin with, the increase in NJ Party/Charter catch was seen nowhere else along the coast. 
I think it was payback for NJ's skirting the then-new 9 inch sea bass size limit by a Federal Register publishing date loophole. When NOAA/MAFMC did close sea bass in August, 1998, every state except Maryland employed the same loophole to keep their guys fishing for sea bass. In Maryland we had begun releasing under-9 inch sea bass in 1992, fully 6 years before actual regulation began; yet we were the only state actually closed by the 1998 regulation.  
While I supported the 1998 size increase to 10 inches; this closure was our first "reward." 
I have come to expect nothing less. 

NJ Party/Charter Sea Bass - MuRFSS
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
FINAL1996BLACK SEA BASS1,905,45616.8
FINAL1997BLACK SEA BASS3,090,87212.8
NJ Private Boat - Somehow NJ's Private Boats didn't get the memo sea bass were on fire.. 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
FINAL1996BLACK SEA BASS373,33625.0
FINAL1997BLACK SEA BASS262,08127.4

This is all US Party/Charter sea bass catch for all of 2014 - MRIP. 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE
FINAL2014BLACK SEA BASS860,75810.9

If management's 'catch restriction only' policy were working; just the sea bass not being caught in NJ should have been enough to have created an incredible fishery restoration. 

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has always employed an Accountability Measures style of quota setting. We've always suffered when catch estimates spiked to delusional new heights. 
Unlike state by state management of summer flounder, however; whenever low catch estimates should have allowed a loosening of sea bass regulation--a lessening of size & creel limit restriction--no action was taken. 
When the size limit on sea bass moved up - it stayed up. When the creel limit went down - it stayed down. 
Thankfully, we were able to get some season restored after the 2009 emergency closure. Also thankfully, a handful of managers have held NOAA at bay for several years when they wanted to completely close sea bass based on accountability measures. 
An Odd Estimate (one that helped tighten tautog regs..) 
NJ - Wave 6 (Nov/Dec).. MRIP
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total Weight (lb)PSE

For Comparison -- All Party/Charter For-Hire -- All Year
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total Weight (lb)PSE

From Fish Report 3/5/16 
According to MRIP it should be Commercial Trawl & Trap who are complaining bitterly about Private Boats. In 2014, for instance, MRIP has Private Boats landing 2,549,000 pounds of sea bass. All commercial effort north of Cape Hatteras, however, landed just 1,317,000 pounds. 
That makes US Private Boats nearly twice as deadly as Trap/Trawl. 
(See catch tables below. Pay special attention to that ultra low PSE. That means it's very accurate. How nice.) 

With catches so huge, the poor commercial guys can't get a break with Grady Whites fishing down the pieces before commercial men get a chance.. Guys with 3 & 4 fish limits, with an 8 fish limit; according to MRIP, private boats are the problem

All Private Boat Mid-Atlantic & North Atlantic Combined. 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2014BLACK SEA BASS1,324,97612.52,549,19214.5

  • Year : From: 2014 To: 2014
  • Species : SEA BASS, BLACK
  • State : New England
YearSpeciesMetric TonsPounds$
2014SEA BASS, BLACK272.8601,4301,973,575
GRAND TOTALS:-272.8601,4301,973,575

  • Year : From: 2014 To: 2014
  • Species : SEA BASS, BLACK
  • State : Middle Atlantic
YearSpeciesMetric TonsPounds$
2014SEA BASS, BLACK325.6717,8782,432,526
GRAND TOTALS:-325.6717,8782,432,526

From Fish Report 3/16/14 
Just The Estimates – Monty Hawkins, 3/14/14
MRFSS/MRIP Catch Estimates: A Short Regulatory History of the Recreational Sea Bass Fishery:

1) Fed/state sea bass management in the Mid-Atlantic began in 1996 when the Joint ASMFC/MAFMC Black Sea Bass Plan was adopted. 

2) 1997: Published too late in the Federal Register for '96, management is actually begun in '97 with a 9 inch limit. Listed as a goal is increasing the size limit to 10 inches.

3) 1998, Size limit up 1 inch for a 10 inch size limit, plus a late-summer closure because an increase of 1,220,000 fish is estimated in New Jersey's 1997 For-Hire estimate. This takes the New Jersey For-Hire Estimate to 3,100,000 sea bass. No other state or mode varies from previous years by a noticeable amount. It's Extremely Important To Consider & Remember The Assertion That JUST New Jersey For-Hire Caught Three Million Sea Bass In 1997. The Recreational Total That Year Was 4,721,000 Cbass Caught. This Estimate Is, Of Course, Junk. I argued against it and especially the August closure, yet failed to gain traction. I was told, in the Federal Register, to take my clients striped bass fishing – quite impossible along the coast in high-summer.. While exact numbers in the estimates are nearly worthless; we did, however, catch a lot of sea bass back then; just one year into management; just one year after wholly-unregulated sea bass fishing had ended. 

Here's the 2016 For-Hire Total from Maine to North Carolina for 2016 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total Weight (lb)PSE
FINAL2016BLACK SEA BASS469,06310.2797,2329.4
And the New Jersey For-Hire ONLY Total from 1997..
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total Weight (lb)PSE
FINAL1997BLACK SEA BASS3,090,87212.82,650,92312.9
Seems like maybe For-Hire is participating in catch reduction, No? 

4) 2001, Size increase to 11 inches and a spring closure. Regulation in this early period tightened when New Jersey's Y2K For-Hire estimate Alone & Again put coastwide recreational fishers over-quota. 
2002, increase to 11.5 inches & no closed season. A twenty-five fish bag limit is begun. Tighter regulation sources, as ever, from New Jersey For-Hire "catching" over half the 2001 recreational quota and that's that.
Prior to this first bag limit, anglers could keep as many legal sized fish as they caught. In late fall, for instance, this could easily exceed 100 fish per person ..Still, from 1997 to 2003 the sea bass population grew fantastically. One could say 'exponentially' in very precise definition; Exponential population growth despite incredibly higher recreational removals than today. 

5) 2003, increase to 12 inches with a short fall closure. For once, New Jersey actually declines slightly in 2002 while Delaware increase from about 110,000 in 2001 to 560,000 sea bass in 2002.. MD's up 200,000 year over year from '01 to '02.. In the estimate MD For-Hire 'catches' 311,000 sea bass, but I'm absolutely positive this number is at least 100,000 too high. Fishing was awesome.

6) 2009 – Size limit increased to 12.5 inches, but I don't remember exactly why and can't find it. Note: 2008 is the first year Private Boats are estimated to have caught more sea bass than the For-Hire fleet in the Mid-Atlantic with 63% of total landings. A Tumultuous Year; in early fall, 2009, an Emergency 180 Day Closure is declared based on estimated 2009 coastwide landings of 1,769,000 sea bass, or about half what the New Jersey For-Hire fleet alone had been catching previously. Estimates credit Private Boats with another percentage of the fishery increase in 2009, catching 74% of the coast's sea bass. This is several times the percentage of the fishery they'd held earlier, and a much greater percentage of the fishery than professional skippers believe Private Boats capture. 

7) There was a regulatory peace beginning in 2004. That peace was shattered when our smallest quota ever was exceeded in 2009. . .
The 2009 emergency sea bass closure bases primarily from Massachusetts wave 4 July/Aug Private Boat catch being up 340,000 pounds from 2008's 33,000 or 2007's 9,000 pounds.. (see table immediately below) There were also increases in Virginia's private boat, up 115,000 pounds from just 10,000 the year before – New York's private boats were up 160,000 pounds in wave 3 from just 30,000 & New Jersey's private boats were up 145,000 in wave 3 plus another 220,000 pounds in wave 4.. 

Since 2009 Sea Bass management has come completely unglued. 
Its not as though outboards are a new invention. Their catch sure is though..

Even allowing a million fish here and there, the downward catch trend from regulatory tightening is plainly seen in party/charter estimates. For-Hire catch is factually reduced when regulations tighten; Regulation's Effect Is Real. 
Catch on the private boat side, however, is reported by the estimates to erupt wildly & uncontrollably, then subside swiftly. There is no apparent regulatory control over the Private Boat mode. That, of course, is not at all true. Private Boat Catch Is Increasingly Restricted, it's just not seen in the estimates. 

Massachusetts Private Boat  —  Note Percentage of the Fishery
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS9,00668.78,76070.538%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS21,21376.432,85874.058%
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS270,46034.7372,32134.292% 

Massachusetts For-Hire
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
For Hire % 
FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS14,58660.018,62162.562%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS15,23948.517,87146.042%
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS22,38433.930,21739.58%

The regulatory history is driven by estimate spikes. Only rarely are broader multi-state/multi-mode/multi-wave increases a factor. 
In the early years, estimate spikes were seen primarily on the For-Hire side. Now it's virtually always on the Private Boat side, and never both. Catch increases are rarely seen across time, across recreational sectors & across state lines as in real life. Estimate spikes never resemble real biological fish production.
In the estimates, fishing doesn't get better over time, it's all of a sudden. 'Statistically' these catch increases happen swiftly, inside a two month period, and then melt away.. 

8) In 2010 we had a "gunshot start" for the first time ever; a race-like opening for sea bass in late May because of the 2009 emergency closure. The season closed October 5th. In the lower Mid-Atlantic there was a four month open season with a 12.5 inch size limit and 25 fish bag. 

9) 2011 – Season Closed From Jan 1st to May 22nd--And All of October. Gunshot Start Again. 

10) 2012 — Overages in the Private Boat estimates threaten to close sea bass for all of 2014. The worst two catch estimate sets in 2012 were in New Jersey & Massachusetts. 

This table offers a May/June\ July/Aug Comparison of Massachusetts Private Boat Catch. Their bag limit, for instance, doubled to twenty fish in July/Aug 2012, Yet Catch Declined By 600,000 lbs.. Compare especially the summer estimates & Bag Limits Shown In Last Column. Note also the 2010 spring estimate.. Only In MRIP Could Such Things Occur.. 
Massachusetts' May/June, 2012, spike represents how half of the recreational quota can be made to suffer a regulatory seizure owing only to a single spike in the estimates. Massachusetts' 2012 estimates were a huge component in the Accountability Measures struggle. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSEBag Limit 
FINAL2009MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS34,49351.372,68252.120
FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS270,46034.7372,32134.220

FINAL2010MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS448,18168.6610,38069.220
FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS121,48156.2202,68354.920


FINAL2011MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS77,39742.9124,30945.420
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS36,70439.464,79238.620

FINAL2012MAY/JUNEBLACK SEA BASS276,31534.3616,51233.310
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS7,77468.316,37265.820


New Jersey – Private Boat – No Special Regs In 2007.. Just Random Numbers. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)

11) Owing to foresight by an ASMFC Commission member, the winter period from Jan 1st to Feb 29th, 2013 is reopened & the October Closure is reduced to 2 weeks. May, however, is still nearly lost to southern Mid-Atlantic sea bass fishers. A year-long 2014 closure is defeated owing to an incredible effort on the part of management.

Recreational sea bass fishers in the lower Mid-Atlantic may yet lose 15 more days of season & 5 fish off their bag limit in 2014 because NY Private Boats are estimated to have caught more sea bass in two late-summer months of 2013 than the entire Atlantic Coast's recreational for-hire fleet caught ALL YEAR! New York's Private Boats are said to have made their all-time record high catch when New York's own party/charter For-Hire operators were; owing to Hurricane Sandy's destruction, factually having their second-worst summer of sea bass fishing in a decade. 

This assertion of New York private boat catch flies in the face of reality—no one in industry or management believes it -- Yet the estimate stands firm & has sopped-up fully a quarter of the MAFMC's recreational 2013 sea bass quota: While New Jersey also has a spike, this one New York estimate is why we're accused of being over-quota; This estimate is why our season's under pressure again.  

Some Tables..

Last Set Key; this table has been modified so New York For-Hire & Private Boat can be compared. I was unable to change the colors in the PSE boxes for Private Boat, but did change the PSE values exactly as MRIP shows. An estimate is said to be inaccurate if it could be more than 100% off in the 95% confidence level (50 PSE.) 

Personally, I often see estimates I believe are several orders of magnitude too high; and, in an abject display of foundational knowledge's absence, I also commonly see estimates that are impossibly low.  

Note spikes & percentage inconsistency, especially for 2013. The 2013 New York, summer, Private Boat estimate represented here is Greater Than All For-Hire Catch, Along The Entire Coast, All Year. 

Readers Should Also Be Made Aware That The 2013 NY Private Boat Estimate Is Based Upon Finding Thirty-Three Sea Bass In Intercept Sampling. Not 3,300 – or 33,000 - Just 33.. I was recently advised there was an error on the website where this information was gathered; that the true number of sea bass was more than 100% higher at 78 individual sea bass.. Whether 33 or 78, how so few fish become 240,000 & then half-a-million pounds is beyond my comprehension. 
Repairing only this estimate would lower the recreational estimate below MAFMC's 2013 recreational quota. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest 
NY For-Hire
PSETotal Harvest 
NY Private Boat
Catch Ratio

FINAL2001JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS10,18247.065,82842.113%

FINAL2002JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS3,01653.1 12,00337.220%
FINAL2003JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS13,57626.445,33031.423%

FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS9,85557.115,38655.140%
FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS5,42636.350,73260.010%
FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS41,09964.938,50843.852%

FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS91,16814.837,68655.871%
FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS18,07040.339,83455.831%

FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS23,52634.4 183,77559.111%
FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS53,77032.783,51348.739%

FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS11,32653.153,74052.517%

FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS73,31136.9127,87159.127%


Last set again key; this table has been modified so New Jersey For-Hire & Private Boat can be compared. 
Here you should note carefully the Private Boat see-saw starting in 2005, but especially the percentage value in 2013.
Estimate StatusYear WaveCommon NameNJ For-Hire 
Total Harvest
PSENJ Private Boat 

PSEFor-Hire %

FINAL2001JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS 461,14019.8223,91228.067%

FINAL2002JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS22,37723.999,01323.118.3

FINAL2003JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS85,38514.8115,13224.643%

FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS40,22569.3137,95035.623%

FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS48,59130.7216,83338.018%

FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS7,03938.224,14848.129%

FINAL2007JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS74,70830.1151,35345.533%

FINAL2008JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS33,41127.414,33052.870%

FINAL2009JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS97,02333.2194,79042.033%

FINAL2010JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS31,52226.282,52136.928%

FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS17,29134.117,43540.832%

FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS63,69932.2117,98240.935%


Below you can see from a broader, multi-state perspective, how the gap has grown between For-Hire & Private Boat. These two tables show how after Hurricane Sandy sea bass fishing was tough for professionals – yet MRIP has the private boat guys filling their freezers to bursting. 
All Mid-Atlantic For-Hire BSB Landings – New York to Cape Hatteras
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEFor-Hire %
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS52,72919.357,73319.641%
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS149,28222.8199,57722.437%

All Mid-Atlantic Private Boat BSB Landings (mostly NY & NJ) 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL2011JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS75,92238.7107,28238.659%
FINAL2012JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS254,48534.8453,61037.563%
PRELIMINARY2013JULY/AUGUSTBLACK SEA BASS420,61127.1786,67827.9  96%

Below is representative of pre/mid 2000s percentages. Note For-Hire & Private Boat Percentages In Last Column – An Amazing Switch. 

Mid-Atlantic For-Hire Annual Landings  Historical 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest 
PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEFor Hire %
FINAL1993BLACK SEA BASS4,529,97525.33,645,09328.677%
FINAL1994BLACK SEA BASS1,950,91115.01,752,21515.662%
FINAL1995BLACK SEA BASS5,103,31418.24,859,58018.680%

Mid-Atlantic Private Boat Annual Landings  Historical 
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest 
Private Boat
PSEHarvest Total
Weight (lb)
PSEPrivate Boat %
FINAL1993BLACK SEA BASS1,355,97010.91,104,87113.923%
FINAL1994BLACK SEA BASS1,207,03020.81,063,51225.138%
FINAL1995BLACK SEA BASS1,305,04920.11,168,81828.7    20%

A "true believer," if there were one, would have to think Private Boats have increased their share of the fishery from about 25% in the 1990s to 96% in 2013.. 
Professionals Do Not Believe Private Boats Catch Above 50% Of Coastal Sea Bass..

After the 2009 Emergency Closure, I & others had high hopes MRIP would be an actual repair, that the new estimating system would offer an improvement. 
Instead, below are several of the first estimates I found when MRIP was "revealed" to the public in January, 2012 (four years late). I was made instantly aware the long-awaited cure for bad estimates had not been found, that MRIP would offer no repair to our recreational catch estimates. 

Where present-day management is wholly-dependent on catch restriction, we must find a method of actual improvement to our recreational estimates, we must discover the truth of recreational catch.
We must also steer management toward other means of fisheries improvement. 

Massachusetts Wave 4 (July/Aug) For-Hire Party/Charter  See Any "Improvement" on the MRIP side? Any at all?

Estimate StatusYearWaveSpecies New MRIP  {Old MRFSS}PSE  or MRIP's Margin of Error Spread
FINAL2004JULY/AUGUSTSCUP752,942        {19,547}48.9    or      20,000 to 1,450,000
FINAL2005JULY/AUGUSTSCUP     1,382       {12,557}   67.3    or        Zero to 3,200
FINAL2006JULY/AUGUSTSCUP  76,908        {49,624}46.2   or       6,000 to 140,000

Here's another: 
This MRIP table starts in 2001 - should have 13 years. Where the year is omitted the estimate is zero. New Jersey Shore Tautog, Wave 2, Just March/April – Just Tautog Caught From Shore Along New Jersey. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSE

And its MRFSS counterpart.  
Note carefully how the "new & improved" MRIP estimates dealt with MRFSS's 2010 inconsistency – They added 100,000 fish!!!
Species: TAUTOG - 2007 to 2011 -- NJ -- Shore -- '07 = zero -- '08 = zero -- '11 = zero  

I believe Congress thought the old catch-estimating formula's failing was MRFSS' dependance on a scatter-shot telephone survey to calculate private boat & shore effort. 
That's why Congress created the very unpopular salt-water fishing license law. I supported the fishing license because I can plainly see how it could tighten up our catch estimates. 
Now I understand the MRIP team plans on experimenting with salt-water license data beginning in 2015. 
That's what was supposed to sharpen the estimates. An IMPROVED PHONE SURVEY was THE REPAIR offered by MRIP. That's what was supposed to take place by 2009!!! 

These estimates are a mess. A hundred thousand more fish added to the dumbest estimate ever.. Estimates that make no sense to industry at all.. 
I believe a true repair can be fashioned by using federally mandated fishing licenses to determine phone survey/mailing targets & by using For-Hire "Vessel Trip Reports" (VTRs are catch reports filled out daily) to double check For-Hire estimates. Then, with as firm a number as possible from the For-Hire side, do a "Percentage of the Fishery" comparison to look for red-flags in the estimate fields. 

If regulators were made to reconsider each specific spike in the MRFSS/MRIP catch estimates that forced the sea bass fishery's regulatory tightenings, they'd soon discover recreational overfishing only an artifact of their data and not at all real. That would allow experimentation with the sciences of Population Biology & Habitat Ecology.
Another -- From Fish Report 3/23/16
The single worst aspect of modern fisheries management is NOAA's demand their recreational catch estimates be treated as though they were accurate. 
Our recent repair, first mandated by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006; a repair to MuRFSS that would become MRIP in 2012 -- has been an abject failure. 
From the very first data sets it was obvious "New & Improved" would be worse than ever. 

Quickly: MuRFSS had NJ shore anglers catching 72,000 tautog. I was using this exact estimate to prove just how bad the old estimating system was, the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey. (we say MuRFSS, they say MRFiSS) There is no possible way on earth those guys caught 72,00 tautog.

Here's exactly what I told upper management in an email on Feb 2, 2012 when MRIP's first estimates came out: 
Species: TAUTOG - NJ - Shore Fishing Only
 - March & April Only - All Years From 2004 to 2011
 (omitted years are zero) Ignore PSE, No One Can Use It
YearNew MRIP -- -- Old MuRFSSPSE
2005 0 -- -- 00
20095,001 -- -- 6,835100
2010173,092 -- -- 71,75670.2
This new MRIP estimate represents 50,000 --FIFTY THOUSAND-- More Tautog Than All the Party/Charter catch --in every state-- during any year from 2003 fwd. 
This new & improved estimate of March and April NJ Shore fishing is almost exactly 100,000 fish higher than 2010 party/charter for the whole coast--for the whole year.

Now I know it's actually higher than all Party/Charter AND Commercial catch for 2010. That's exactly the quality of MRIP's repair -- guys fishing on upside-down buckets from New Jersey's jetties this time of year caught more tautog (while they weren't biting) than all Party/Charter & Commercial effort caught all year. 


I call that estimate a "spike." They're all over the place in our catch estimates & for every species. From red snapper to cod, and sea bass to cobia: MuRFSS/MRIP spikes are destroying recreational fisheries. 
I've been fighting their use since 1998. 
NOAA insists on MRIP estimates' though. No matter how putrid, they insist it's really the "best available scientific information"..

I think a very simple repair could be fashioned from data surrendered daily by party/charter fishers - a creation of "Stops" by using VTRs. I've gone over it in depth many times. A good, hard look at estimates is found in one of my old Fish Reports, from 3/16/14.. where I discuss "Percentage of the Fishery"..
From "Regulatory Death Of Our Fisheries" 2/13/15
....VTRs or 'vessel trip reports' are mandatory data sheets filled out daily by the For-Hire industry. The three data sets on this graph should march almost in unison because percentage of catch is fairly constant. That's not to say "they should be the same," but the rise & fall of these 3 lines should only reflect sea bass abundance. 

Who would believe Private Boats might catch incredibly better than ever before while For-Hire caught fewer. 
In the real ocean, with real reefs & real fish: when abundance is up, so is catch - for everyone. 
A spike in catch & effort often has more to do with another fishery closing. Take, for instance, the spike in tog effort after the 2009 emergency sea bass closure that still continues. But again; where there's a shift in catch, it's for everyone. 
If NOAA knew what percentage of catch was Private/For-Hire, they could do away with their damnably incorrect statistics altogether for the reef fisheries. 
We tell them what we caught - almost exactly. The lines on this graph should train-track. Where they do not -- Trouble. 

We need to get back to what worked. 

I believe our region's sea bass were at, or very nearly at, habitat capacity in 2003. Our reefs couldn't have held many more cbass. Even half-day party boats would sometimes limit-out at 25 fish per-person, and that was when a limit, any bag limit, was brand new. 
But all those three year-old 12 inch sea bass back then were already great-grandparents. Today most 12 inch sea bass haven't yet spawned, not even once. 

We have reef-fish management with no consideration of population biology or reef ecology; we have fisheries management that welcomes incredibly wrong statistical catch estimates into it's calculations; we have a system whose scientific philosophy is "Ignore Success, it's just an illusion" while holding tightly to the fantasy of infallible MRIP estimates. Today we have a complete failure of reef fish management, a failure so absolute it's driving many businesses into failure while losing sea bass population gains of earlier work. 

We need to fix that. 
From Fish Report 5/1/16

For one month this summer anglers above Cape Cod will be allowed 1 cod. 
For one month this summer anglers from Rhode Island will be allowed 1 sea bass at 14 inches. 
For one month this summer New Jersey anglers will be allowed 2 sea bass. 
For a few days this year anglers will be allowed a couple red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. 
NOAA's catch estimating system, MRIP, will likely show, (even at these grossly too-low creel limits,) recreational fishers having caught nearly as many cod, or sea bass, or red snapper as commercial fishers. 
Happens all the time. 
Even from shore sometimes. 

MRIP's estimates are that bad.

I want readers to know I do not begrudge commercial fishers their quota. What I see destroying recreational fisheries is NOAA's never-ending accusations of recreational anglers going far over quota. When we're "Over Quota" we have to pay it back. That means: less season, longer size limits, fewer fish, and sometimes complete closure. 

Before "Ban All Trawlers" talk begins - what I'm trying to illustrate here is how far astray MRIP has lead regulators. 
I do think, I absolutely believe, trawling has a place in US commercial fisheries. In fact, timing their catch, & identifying what spawning habitat that catch sources from, is vital to getting sea bass management right. 

I believe it would be almost impossible for a trawler (one boat) in winter, targeting sea bass, to NOT catch --in one trip-- what Rhode Island anglers will have caught this summer. 

In fact, there was a Facebook post this winter where a trawler estimated 50,000 pounds of sea bass in one tow. I'm positive Maryland rec fishers haven't hit that sort of number in years - all of us, all together, haven't caught that in a year - for years. 
That trawler caught theirs in 50 minutes. It's incredibly likely they could not legally land all those fish. Getting more dollars per-pound for jumbos; they'd have boxed the best & shoveled the rest. 
It's silly beyond belief to think it only happened once.. 
Those fish are real - and really dead. 
Whether landed or not. 
Only some of MRIP's fish are real.

Here's sea bass landings as seen by NOAA & other regulators:

All Atlantic Coast Party/Charter by Year. (Florida to Cape Cod)
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2009BLACK SEA BASS486,48910.3631,15310.9
FINAL2010BLACK SEA BASS566,44811.8733,36712.0
FINAL2011BLACK SEA BASS368,26914.3471,13613.9
FINAL2012BLACK SEA BASS714,52411.21,073,68011.0
FINAL2013BLACK SEA BASS286,6169.8462,0649.9
FINAL2014BLACK SEA BASS835,29110.31,166,41710.3
PRELIMINARY2015BLACK SEA BASS826,22116.91,327,02516.7

Private Boats Only From 3 States: Rhode Island, Connecticut, & Massachusetts - Annual By Year
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
Difference in pounds from 
All Atlantic For-Hire
Difference in pounds caught 
Commercially from VA to MA
FINAL2009BLACK SEA BASS393,58926.6574,669-57,000-49,000
FINAL2010BLACK SEA BASS780,99440.71,180,652+447,000+146,000
FINAL2011BLACK SEA BASS185,67226.7305,201-166,000-696,000
FINAL2012BLACK SEA BASS543,41422.01,172,749+99,000+195,000
FINAL2013BLACK SEA BASS362,65013.5865,426+403,000-358,000
FINAL2014BLACK SEA BASS877,54116.41,750,360+584,000+432,000
PRELIMINARY2015BLACK SEA BASS713,65512.01,385,733+59,000No Com Data for 2015 yet
In NOAA's eyes, these three states' Private Boats outfished All Atlantic Coast Party/Charter 5 of the last 7 years. In 2014 this three-state fleet caught nearly 600,000 pounds more sea bass than all Atlantic For-Hire Party/Charter..
NOAA also holds private boats caught 432,000 pounds more sea bass in 2015, with their scrimpy seasons and over-large size limits, than all the commercial boats from Virginia to Massachusetts. 
Managers have to believe it least they have to regulate as though they believed it.

And party boats? This fishery must be a joke to NOAA. According to MRIP, party boats haven't caught sea bass in so long, it's not even worth a concern. In fact, my congressman (couple terms ago) was told sea bass were not an important fishery in MD at all. 

All Mid-Atlantic Party Boats - VA to NY - (Partyboats only ~ not charter boats)
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
FINAL2009BLACK SEA BASS145,69614.3179,41214.5
FINAL2010BLACK SEA BASS269,95419.7329,43519.5
FINAL2011BLACK SEA BASS101,59214.5118,32616.0
FINAL2012BLACK SEA BASS156,72420.2211,54620.1
FINAL2013BLACK SEA BASS99,25215.8131,20115.7
FINAL2014BLACK SEA BASS308,41812.8399,67412.5
PRELIMINARY2015BLACK SEA BASS72,34922.1129,86225.8
I promise any who will read - My clients alone often caught greater numbers of sea bass (left column) in a year than these estimates assert across a broad 5 state area. 
And, while they were catching like that, the sea bass population was increasing annually. 
Why is Partyboat catch factually in such decline while Private Boat is shown to rise many-fold since 2003? 
It's because regulations have real effect--deep effect--numerically, biologically, & economically; while MRIP's catch estimates for Private Boats are a fantasy NOAA is attempting to live. 

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