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State Reef Fish Survey Program Overview

What is the State Reef Fish Survey?

Sample Florida fishing license with a box highlighting State Reef Fish Angler designation

State Reef Fish Angler designation on saltwater fishing license.

The State Reef Fish Survey (SRFS) is a specialized recreational fishing survey that provides more timely and precise data needed to manage and assess important reef fish stocks throughout Florida. Better data provides a clearer picture of the health of reef fish stocks and helps ensure the long-term sustainability of recreational fishing in Florida.

The SRFS relies on two methods to collect vital information on recreational fishing for reef fishes from private boats, including a mail survey and in-person interviews.

How was the State Reef Fish Survey developed?

a woman holding a large red snapper

The SRFS is used to manage red snapper in the Gulf

Originally called the Gulf Reef Fish Survey, the SRFS was initially designed to improve our understanding of the recreational fishery for reef fish species along the Gulf coast of Florida. The survey methods were developed over years of collaboration between the state of Florida, regional and federal partners, and academic experts across the country.

The survey has provided greater flexibility for the state to manage the red snapper recreational fishery in both state and federal waters off the Gulf coast of Florida. Building on the successes in the Gulf, the survey was expanded statewide to include Monroe County and the Atlantic coast of Florida and was renamed the State Reef Fish Survey in July 2020.

How does the survey work?

first page of the State Reef Fish Survey questionnaire

Mail Survey Questionnaire

The State Reef Fish Angler designation is required for recreational anglers and spear fishers who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish species in Florida. This designation also makes you eligible to receive a questionnaire in the mail which asks about fishing activity in the previous month. Responses received from the mail survey are used to estimate the number of private recreational fishing trips taken by reef fish anglers each month.

In addition, anglers returning from trips where they fished for reef fish may be interviewed by FWC biologists in the field. During interviews, biologists collect information on the numbers and types of fish landed and released, as well as the size, weight, and age of harvested fish.

FDM biologist conducting dockside interview.

FDM biologist conducting dockside interview.

The State Reef Fish Survey runs side-by-side with the existing Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). The MRIP is a general survey that serves as the primary source of recreational fishing statistics for a variety of important species in Florida, such as spotted seatrout, red drum, and common snook. The SRFS and MRIP are complementary, by design, and angler interview data from the two surveys are used together to provide a more precise measure of the average number of reef fish species caught per trip. When combined with monthly estimates of fishing trips from the SRFS mail survey, these data provide more precise estimates of the total numbers of reef fishes harvested and released in Florida.

FWC is grateful to everyone who participates in the State Reef Fish Survey. This survey would not be a success without support from recreational anglers who voluntarily return surveys in the mail and allow biologists to conduct interviews. If you receive one of our surveys in the mail, please fill out the questionnaire and return it to FWRI. It is important to return the questionnaire even if you did not fish during the month of the survey. If an FWC biologist greets you at a boat ramp or marina, the interview takes just a few minutes of your time. By participating in an interview for the State Reef Fish Survey or the MRIP survey, you are making an important contribution to help preserve Florida’s recreational fisheries.

What else is the FWC doing to improve data for reef fish?

Tagged red grouper

Tagged red grouper.

In addition to the mail survey and dockside interviews, anglers fishing recreationally from for-hire vessels may also be accompanied by an FWC biologist to observe reef fishes that are released at-sea. This information provides important insight into the overall health of fish stocks, how many fish will be available to harvest in future years, and how well fish survive following catch and release.

On the Atlantic coast of Florida, FWC also conducts enhanced survey efforts during federal harvest seasons for red snapper in addition to the new SRFS. The enhanced survey efforts are still needed to closely track red snapper landings in-season, and SRFS will provide more precise estimates for fish released year-round.

FWC also conducts separate scientific studies that are independent of what fishers may see on the water, and these surveys are used to monitor the abundance of reef fishes and the relative contributions of juvenile and adult fish in the populations. These data are important for assessing the overall health and sustainability of reef fish stocks.