Changes are coming in fishing data collection

June 5, 2021

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that changes are coming to the way various fishing managers collect data from recreational saltwater fishermen. Right now, you have to use electronic reporting to register your catch of tilefish, and in Virginia, during the February sea bass season, anglers must notify the Virginia Marine Resources Commission when they depart and return from a sea bass trip and what they caught.

I believe the writing is on the wall that before long, all recreational fishermen who fish in tidal waters are going to have to report what they caught and where they fished on a daily basis. This is the only way fishery managers are going to have the correct data on the recreational catch.

The current system is just a little less terrible than its predecessor in counting fish caught by recreational fishermen. Anyone with an IQ above their shoe size would know, for instance, that Delaware anglers did not catch more than 200,000 summer flounder from shore or almost the same amount of black sea bass from shore as well. If they can be that far off on those figures, it proves just how far off they are on everything else.

I believe we will soon see a system where saltwater recreational fishermen will be asked to submit the number and species of fish they catch on each trip, including those they had to or chose to release. A system could be set up using smartphones and computers to record these numbers and send them directly to the state and federal fishery managers.

I know that some of you are thinking, “All fishermen are liars, except you and me, and I’m not too sure about you.” I still believe that the vast majority of anglers would keep reasonably good records, and the few who would lie would be averaged out.

Then there is the problem of those who would refuse to go along with the program. We heard from them when we were planning the saltwater fishing license. They said, “If we have to pay for a license to fish, we will stop fishing.” We said, “Goodbye.”

Now everyone must have a FIN number to fish. If they do not abide by the new regulations and fail to record their catch, they would lose their FIN number and not be allowed to fish.

Not only will this system be more accurate, it will eliminate the phone calls made by contractors for the National Marine Fisheries Service. It would also eliminate those folks who stop you after a day on the water to ask questions and count your fish, when all you want to do is load the boat and go home.

Since those who do the survey work can only intercept fishermen at public ramps or where they have been invited, that leaves all private facilities uncovered. Think Pot-Nets, Bay Shore, Rehoboth Bay Mobile Home Park, Mariners Cove, and all the other mobile home parks and campgrounds we have in the state. Now, instead of having some number counter trying to come up with a formula to figure out what all those fishermen caught, and failing horribly, the fishery managers would have a much more accurate number to work with.

Finally, there will be some who will complain that this is just more government intrusion on their freedoms. That’s true. It used to be free to fish and we could keep whatever we wanted, no matter the size or season. That ship sailed a long time ago. Now we have bag and size limits on just about every saltwater fish and seasons on some others. That is not going to change. The best thing for the saltwater fisherman is to have the fishery managers working with the most accurate data possible. I believe this system would accomplish that objective.

Fishing report

Fishing has not been that great. We lost the entire holiday weekend due to the storm, and Monday was not very good, either. I do know of some flounder caught from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal on Monday, including a 2.97-pounder by Luke Wiest, but no boats went out into the ocean from Lewes or Indian River.

Surf fishing showed some signs of life right after the rough weather with rockfish caught on cut, fresh bunker and bloodworms. Most of this action occurred south of Indian River Inlet.

Shad fishing remains very good at the inlet with a few small blues mixed in the catch. As always, darts and small spoons were the top baits.

We are beginning to see some bluefin tuna come in from offshore. Be sure you understand the current regulations before putting one in the box. Violations are a federal crime.


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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