The problems with the Marine Recreational Information Program

May 4, 2024

The Marine Recreational Information Program is the basis of all regulations made by federal and state agencies, and these regulations are what we have to live with. The regulations are formed by scientists, many of whom do not know a striped bass from a sea bass, and then these regulations are reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee that is made up of people who are supposed to know what’s going on in the field. But after looking at the numbers, I must conclude they do not.

Please allow me to cite one glaring example. According to the 2023 MRIP Data Pounds of Fish Harvested, Delaware party boats harvested just 13 pounds of summer flounder all year. Maryland brought in 6,105 pounds, while Virginia landed 19 pounds from its party boats. Can somebody please tell me how in the world two groups of supposedly intelligent people have the nerve to print these ridiculous numbers?

Delaware has one party boat in Slaughter Beach, four in Lewes and two out of Indian River Marina. You have to be pretty detached from reality to believe that those seven boats that carry hundreds of fishermen daily from spring until fall only caught 13 pounds of flounder all year.

Maryland has five or six head boats that caught, according to MRIP data, 6,105 pounds of summer flounder in 2023. I would say that figure is still low, but a bit closer to what was actually caught.

Virginia has head boats running from Virginia Beach that target summer flounder. Both of my sons used to work on the ones from Lynnhaven Inlet. I can promise you from firsthand experience they caught more than 19 pounds of summer flounder.

What happens is the rule makers look at these pitiful numbers and decide that summer flounder are overfished. Then the reports come in from the field that the young-of-the-year numbers are low. The result: a 28% reduction in recreational summer flounder take.

Now let’s take a look at the numbers for black sea bass.

According to the MRIP, there were 326 pounds of black sea bass harvested from shore in Delaware in 2023. Maryland and Virginia did not record any black sea bass taken from shore. I do a lot of fishing reports, and I have never had a report of a keeper sea bass caught from shore. Yet this did not cause any red flags to wave among the two agencies charged with overseeing these numbers. Head boats recorded 12,564 pounds, charter boats had 9,662 pounds and private/rental boats brought in 343,240 pounds of black sea bass in 2023. Make what you will of those numbers.

Bluefish are next up. The numbers here are a bit on the low side.

Delaware recorded 113,207 pounds from shore, no blues were caught from head boats (I know that’s not true), 3,003 pounds came from charter boats and 9,108 pounds from private/rental boats.

As I’m sure you can see, these numbers are as cockeyed as they can be, and they will remain so until the powers that be go to an electronic reporting system. I am sure most saltwater fishermen have cellphones. They all have Fisherman Information Network numbers. It should not take too much effort to devise a system where every fisherman with a cellphone and a FIN could call in his catch report at the end of his or her fishing day. No cellphone? Call on a land line. Refuse to call in? No FIN number for you!

Would some fishermen expand or contract their catch? Of course. All fishermen are liars, except you and me, and I’m not too sure about you.

The current system misses all the fishermen who run out of the trailer parks along Indian River and Rehoboth bays. I suspect they also miss a lot of folks from outside Delaware. Having everyone with a FIN required to report their catch every time they went fishing would help make the MRIP considerably more accurate.

Fishing report

Big blues have been caught from the beach, the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park and Indian River Inlet. Frozen mullet has been the most effective bait, with SP Minnows in bone color the top lure. Metal spoons and lures such as Hopkins have also worked. In a few cases, topwater lures have brought explosive strikes and, man, it just don’t get no better than that!

Flounder are being caught out of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Live minnows and Gulp! have accounted for everything I have recorded, and you can’t go wrong with either one.

Black drum on clams at the Coral Beds or Broadkill Beach round out the action for this week.


  • 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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