CDFW Celebrates More Than 10 Years of Improvements to the California Recreational Fisheries Survey

CRFS fisheries technician collecting data
California Recreational Fisheries Survey sampler Bonnie Brown measures fish and records data

For over ten years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has worked to improve the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) to provide the best possible estimates for management of California’s marine recreational fisheries.

CRFS was implemented in 2004 and was built upon its predecessor, the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS), which was conducted from 1980 to 2003. MRFSS was a groundbreaking survey of saltwater recreational fishing effort and catch in its time, but it did not always meet the needs of managing California’s dynamic fisheries.

MRFSS estimates were produced every two months, and split California into two regions: northern California and southern California. Estimates were produced for each mode of fishing (beaches and banks, man-made structures such as piers and jetties, private and rental boats, and party or charter boats), and by water area (bay, ocean, etc.).

In comparison, CRFS produces estimates every month for six separate coastal districts in California, for each mode of fishing, by water area, and by eight different trip-types. The improved timeliness and finer resolution of the CRFS estimates allow for greater adaptability of management measures.

To provide for more accessibility and documentation of the data and estimates, CDFW’s Recreational Fishing Data Project developed a state-of-the-art data system to manage CRFS data. The current online data system has improved all aspects of the data stream, including data entry screens, error checking and online data editing programs, estimation procedures, field-sample draw procedures, and all associated documentation.

CDFW has made a number of additional changes to improve CRFS fishing effort and catch estimates:

  • CRFS now uses an improved telephone survey to estimate beach and bank fishing effort, as well as night fishing effort and fishing effort that occurs at private access sites that CRFS technicians cannot directly sample. The old MRFSS effort estimates relied on a telephone survey which randomly called households in coastal counties to inquire about fishing activity, and was hampered by low contact rates for saltwater anglers. The new CRFS telephone survey draws upon a CDFW database of licensed anglers to contact anglers about their fishing activity, leading to higher contact rates with anglers.
  • CRFS now uses logbooks submitted by vessels skippers, in tandem with a supplemental field survey, to estimate party and charter boat fishing effort. Previously, party and charter boat effort estimates came from a telephone survey. The new method better leverages available data, and represents a significant cost savings.
  • The rate at which CRFS technicians sample man-made structures, certain private and rental boat sites, and CPFV landings is now proportionate to historical fishing activity at these sites, which leads to greater sampling efficiency.
  • CRFS now collects data on the use of descending devices for rockfish releases, which allows for more accurate mortality rate estimates. These more accurate estimates translate into more fishing opportunities for anglers.
  • CDFW’s Recreational Fishing Data Project developed improved algorithms for calculating average fish weights, which result in more robust estimates of total catch by weight.

CRFS is a complex survey, and CDFW continually strives to improve the data collection and estimation procedures to provide the best estimates possible for management of California’s marine recreational fisheries. For more information about CDFW data collection and CRFS, please visit the CDFW website.


post by Ashok Sadrozinski, CDFW Environmental Scientist    CDFW photo