Science Behind the Survey
Do you have questions about the Gulf Reef Fish Survey? Find answers here.
How do I sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey?
You can sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey online. You can also sign up at retailers such as tackle shops, sporting goods stores and tax collector offices, or by phone at 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). There is no cost to sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey, and anglers can simply choose the survey option when they purchase or renew their saltwater fishing license, or add it to an existing license. Florida seniors age 65 and older may sign up for free without purchasing a saltwater fishing license. Please visit the Recreational Regulations section to learn more about how to sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey.
Why do we need this data collection program for Gulf Reef Fish?
Reef fish include some of the most highly prized, economically important species in the Gulf of Mexico, such as red snapper and gag grouper. Recreational fishing in the state of Florida is an important social and economic driver for coastal communities and helps fuel the state’s tourism-based economy. Last year, anglers in Florida took more than 3 million recreational fishing trips from private boats in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers who fish from private boats represent the largest and most difficult segment of the recreational fishery to collect vital information on. Without accurate statistics from this user group, fishery managers may need to take conservative measures to ensure reef fish are not overfished. More accurate data on reef fish will allow managers to maximize recreational fishing opportunities while continuing to sustain the resource.
With Florida’s extensive coastline and the most active recreational fishery of any state in the country, collecting vital data from this large and diverse fishery is no simple task. In recent years, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have all implemented new state programs aimed at improving data collected from their recreational anglers who fish for reef fish. The new Gulf Reef Fish Survey is Florida’s plan for meeting current needs for timely and more accurate data from this important recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. The new requirement in Florida will help FWC identify anglers who fish recreationally for reef fish, particularly those fishing from private boats, and contact them directly for the purpose of improved data collection.
If providing data is voluntary, why is signing up for the survey mandatory?
Currently, the number of people who live in or visit the state of Florida and fish recreationally for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico is not known. In order to manage this resource for the maximum benefits of all recreational anglers, it is important to know who participates in the fishery and how many people have a stake in sustaining the resource. A mandatory program ensures the most reliable and precise estimates.
How will the data be used?
The average numbers of trips reported by participants in the survey each month will be applied to the entire population of Gulf Reef Fish Anglers to estimate the total number of recreational fishing trips that targeted reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to estimating numbers of recreational fishing trips, FWC biologists will be conducting interviews throughout the year with anglers at locations where fish are landed, such as boat ramps and marinas, to collect information about the days’ catch. These interviews will be separate and in addition to the MRIP surveys that are already conducted to survey the recreational fishery. Together, the two surveys will be used to estimate the total numbers of red snapper and other reef fish species harvested and released by recreational anglers in Florida’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico.
Having precise and timely information on how many red snapper and other reef fish species are caught in the recreational fishery is vital for accurately assessing the health of the resource and making well-informed management decisions to ensure sustainability and maximize fishing opportunities.
Will this survey replace the federally-managed survey currently conducted in Florida?
The State of Florida is a cooperative partner in the national recreational fishing survey called the Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP. If you have ever been approached by an FWC biologist in Florida and asked to provide information on your recreational catch, it is likely that you have participated in this survey. The MRIP survey is the primary source of recreational fishing data used to monitor and assess the status of marine recreational fisheries for all species of fish. The State of Florida relies on this information to assess important state-managed fisheries, including spotted sea trout, red drum, common snook and other nearshore species. Regional fisheries management councils also rely on this information to assess and manage a variety of other federally managed fisheries in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, such as king mackerel, dolphin and highly migratory species (including billfish and tunas), in addition to reef fish. The new Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Survey is developed for a select number of species in Florida and cannot replace what is currently provided by the MRIP survey. Instead, this new survey is designed to complement MRIP by targeting anglers who fish for particular species and collecting more detailed information that will allow us to better manage that resource. The MRIP survey has been in place since 1980 and before any new survey can contribute to the assessment of reef fish, without interrupting our ability to evaluate the long-term status and trends in the fishery, it must be run side-by-side with the historic survey.
If I want to provide data more frequently, can I?
Yes. A new questionnaire about red snapper fishing trips will be available online where you may report as many fishing trips as you wish. At this time, additional data can be reported for red snapper only. This data may be used along with interviews conducted in the field to determine how many red snapper are released during recreational fishing trips, and the sizes of released fish.
Why aren’t other people, such as anglers who fish from charter boats and large party boats or commercial fishermen, also required to do this?
Charter boat captains participate in a weekly telephone survey and provide information on their vessels’ recreational fishing activities whenever they are selected. Operators of large party boats (also called headboats) participate in a census, which means they are required to submit data for every fishing trip. All commercial landings of reef fish must be reported to state and federal resource management agencies at the point of sale.
If I have filled out a questionnaire that I received in the mail or by email, do I still need to talk to an FWC biologist if they approach me at the dock?
We encourage everyone to participate in a dockside interview, even if you have also received a questionnaire about your fishing activity and returned it to FWC. The purpose of the dockside interview is to collect specific information on where you fished that day (such as how far you travelled offshore or how deep you fished) that cannot be collected in a mail questionnaire. The questionnaire also does not collect information on the numbers and species of fish caught during recreational fishing, and it is important that we collect this information on the day of your fishing trip so we can see your catch to collect information on the size and weight of fish
Mail Survey FAQs:
What am I signing up for when I sign up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey?
Signing up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey makes you eligible to be contacted by FWC for the purpose of collecting information about your fishing activity. Between 5 and 10 percent of all anglers signed up as a Gulf reef fish angler will be selected each month to receive a questionnaire in the mail. Gulf Reef Fish Anglers will not be asked to report every fishing trip they make, but you may be randomly selected throughout the year and asked to fill out a questionnaire about your fishing activity for the most recent month. Questions will be general in nature and only pertain to where and how often you fish during a given month. Providing this data to FWC is voluntary. We are asking for your help to provide the best data possible to manage this important resource. For your convenience, a self-addressed envelope with postage paid on delivery will be included in the mail packet you receive.
Will I be asked to fill out a survey every time I fish for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico?
No. Each month throughout the year a small percentage of anglers who have signed up for the survey will be randomly selected to receive a questionnaire. If you are selected, you will be asked to provide information on how often you fished in the Gulf of Mexico, which species you fished for, and what part of the state you fished from. The questionnaire will be mailed to your residence and should only take a few minutes to fill out.
What if I did not fish for reef fish, should I still fill out the survey?
Information on how many anglers did not fish for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico during a given month is also very important, so we want to hear back from everyone. If we do not hear from you after sending the questionnaire, you will receive a courtesy reminder after two weeks and a new copy of the questionnaire after four weeks.
What is the penalty if I do not fill out the questionnaire?
There is no penalty if you do not fill out the questionnaire. However, since we rely on voluntary participation to collect vital information on recreational fisheries, it is important that we hear back from as many people who receive the questionnaire as possible.