A Day Above Water with a Recreational Port Agent

Recreational port agent interviewing fishermen

On a beautiful, cold and windy Thursday morning, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Recreational Port Agent Amanda Mullikin reports to the Oceanana Pier in Atlantic Beach. Her plans for the day are to survey as many anglers as possible as they leave the pier after a day of fishing.

Computer tablet in hand, she approaches an angler.

“Excuse me, are you done fishing for the day?” Mullikin asks, and the angler answers in the affirmative. “Would you be willing to answer a few questions? I’m from the Division of Marine Fisheries.”

She asks the angler several questions, such as how often he fishes, what fish he caught and kept, and what fish he released. She also asks to measure the fish.

“As a recreational port agent, I collect recreational fishing data to help us understand what our fish populations look like,” Mullikin said. “This information is used, along with other data, to help make fishery management decisions.”

On another day, Mullikin will do the same at a different fishing site. 

A State-Regional-Federal Partnership

Mullikin and other port agents work with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), a national fisheries survey program, which is conducted in North Carolina through the N. C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Coastal Angling Program. This state-regional-federal partnership develops, implements, and continually improves a national network of recreational fishing surveys to estimate total recreational catch. These estimates are combined with commercial catch data and biological research to help scientists and managers conduct stock assessments and maintain sustainable fish stocks. North Carolina has partnered with the MRIP since 1981.

The program randomly assigns survey sites to port agents based on recreational fishing activity throughout the year. These assignments encompass daytime, nighttime and weekend fishing to ensure the statistics gathered are representative of the various fishing locations, species caught, and other important information. 

Once the data is collected, it is submitted to the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) for verification. The ACCSP is a cooperative state-federal program established to be the principal source of fisheries-dependent information on the Atlantic Coast. 

Once verified, NOAA Fisheries provides access to this recreational data on its website.

Angler participation is crucial to the program. The better the participation, the better the recreational statistics. And, in general, they do cooperate.

“Participation from the anglers is completely voluntary,” Mullikin said. “When I first got this job, I thought it would be more difficult trying to speak with people, but most people are helpful and friendly and think that by participating they are helping broaden the understanding of the fishery.” 

Conquering Misconceptions about MRIP

Anglers sometimes mistake her for law enforcement, thinking she is there to check their catches for violations, so she just explains to them that she is there to collect valuable data that helps the state make sustainable management decisions.

Sometimes anglers express a belief that if they give the requested information, it will come back to hurt them in the future, possibly causing stricter regulations. Mullikin lets the fishermen know that we are all in this together to maintain a sustainable fishery for many years to come.

Andrew Cathey, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Coastal Angling Program Manager, often hears another misconception. Anglers say that they have never been interviewed, so the data can’t be that good.

“The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries interviews approximately 20,000 anglers a year,” Cathey said. “If you have been recreational saltwater fishing for years and never been interviewed, don’t fret. You are a needle in the recreational saltwater fishing haystack.”

“Saltwater fishing is extremely popular in North Carolina with approximately 1 million licensed anglers per year. NCDMF relies on the statistical design of the MRIP to ensure that the approximately 2% of anglers that are interviewed are representative of North Carolina’s diverse fisheries.”

And that’s where Mullikin and other recreational port agents come in.

“I’ve been with the division for almost two years, and I love working outside with the public, and I love helping the resource,” Mullikin said.

As her day nears the end, she catches one more fisherman in the parking lot to swap fish stories and collect that all important data.