Marine Recreational Information Program data is flawed

February 21, 2020

On Feb. 19, I attended a public hearing on black sea bass, summer flounder and scup held in Dover at the DNREC Auditorium. The National Marine Fisheries Service through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council held the hearing to take public input on allocation of the three species between commercial and recreational fishermen. As usual, there were more commercial fishermen in attendance than recreational fishermen.

As a general rule, I do not speak at these hearings, but I did at this one, because they are using highly flawed data from the Marine Recreational Information Program survey to divvy up the fish. I pointed out the ridiculous figures from the survey and was met with blank stares from the people conducting the meeting. It was like the cabin boy telling the captain of the Titanic that there was a big hole in the hull of the ship and the captain going back to his dinner.

Something must be done to prevent these people from using this terrible data to manage our fisheries. Allocation is just the tip of the iceberg. They will be coming after size and bag limits next, because this stupid data says recreational fishermen are catching way too many fish.

Keep it equal

There is a troubling trend in fishery management that I fear will drive a wedge between anglers who fish from their own boats or from shore and those that fish from charter or head boats and their captains or owners. Currently, the Delaware regulations for the 2020 bluefish season require a three-fish bag limit for folks who fish from land or their own boats and a five-fish limit for those who fish from head or charter boats.

Over in Maryland, the 2020 proposed summer striped bass regulations give charter and head boat patrons two fish per day while private boaters will only be allowed one.

I agree that folks who pay to fish on a charter or head boat need an incentive to go out and expect at least the opportunity to come back with a reasonable number of fish. Giving them that opportunity at the expense of their counterparts who also spend their money to go out with the expectation of bringing home fish is just wrong.

Fishery managers need to revisit these regulations and come to a more equitable solution. There should be no difference in the bag limit between private boats, land-based anglers and those who fish from charter and head boats. They are all recreational fishermen, and what they catch goes against the overall recreational cap.

I suspect the cause of this decision is related to the terrible data the Mid-Atlantic Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have been using. The new, and supposedly improved, Marine Recreational Information Program is a disgrace. According to the latest data, in May and June of 2019, charter boats caught 7,367 black sea bass while private boats had 18,275. The real kicker is shore-based anglers caught 2,802, almost 500 more than head boats, which caught 2,345. I have been doing fishing reports since 1973, and in all that time, I do not recall hearing of a single black sea bass keeper being caught from shore, yet these people want us to believe shore-based anglers caught 2,802 in May and June of 2019.

These ridiculous figures would be funny if the people who control our fishery regulations didn’t believe them. Looking at the black sea bass numbers, it is easy to see why they would give the poor charter and head boat guys more fish. After all, in May and June of 2019, they only caught 4,619 black sea bass while shore-based fishermen and private boaters caught 21,077. The fact that there are only a couple dozen charter and head boats in Delaware and some of them don’t fish for black sea bass and there are a few thousand private fishing boats running from Lewes and Indian River seems lost on these people. Even if only one-quarter of the private boats fished for black sea bass, it would be many more than the entire head and charter boat fleet.

I would never agree to taking fish away from the charter and head boat fleet any more than I would agree to taking fish from private fishermen. We must have an equal amount of fish for all anglers, no matter who they fish with or where they fish. If there are going to be five fish for the for-hire fleet and three for private anglers, let’s have four for everybody. I think using the current MRIP data anywhere except the outhouse is a waste of time, so let’s divide up the fish on an equal basis so everybody comes out ahead.


  • 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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