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August 19, 2016
Contact: Teri Frady

Survey of 2015 Commercial Fishing Business Costs Underway

Mailing Error to be Corrected

NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center has been periodically surveying commercial fishing businesses to collect data on costs since 2007, and last did so in 2012. Several things are different with this year's survey, including an administrative error that caused incorrect information to be printed in the letters inviting business owners to take the survey.

The survey is designed to collect vital information on the total costs of commercial fishing in the Northeast. Invitations to participate, including instructions on how to take the cost survey online and a paper copy of the cost survey, were mailed to more than 2,000 commercial fishing businesses last week.

Northeast Fisheries Science Center economist Tammy Murphy is the point person on the multi-year effort. "We did two things differently this year," she said. "First, we selected for 'business entities' instead of individual permit holders, and we then tried to personalize our invitation and follow-up letters using an owner's name rather than the business name in the address and greeting."

By selecting for business entities, those who own more than one vessel will only be asked about one of their vessels owned in 2015, as well as for overall business costs. While that change is intended to minimize the burden on responding businesses, the personalization was intended to boost participation. However, when the owner names and addresses were merged to address the letters, a coding error in the merge program randomly assigned owner names to otherwise correct address and vessel information.

"It's like getting a statement on one of your accounts with everything right except somebody else's name is where yours ought to be," said Murphy. "I completely understand that concern."

Bill Karp, director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center said, "We rely on you to provide accurate and complete information and you should expect the same from us, so I would like to apologize to everyone for this mistake. I encourage business owners to complete and return these surveys so that we can provide accurate analyses to the Councils and others in NOAA to support their policy making responsibilities.

The cost survey team has been answering a large number of phone calls and emails since the letters started to arrive. They are assuring people that information in the Northeast federal permit database has not been altered in any way by this project, and no confidential information about fishing vessels or businesses is contained in any of the materials distributed.

The coding error has been fixed, and follow-up letters with an explanation of the event, an apology, and another invitation to participate in the survey will be sent shortly. Still, Murphy is concerned that this error might affect participation. She stresses that the data are vital to getting an accurate picture of how fishery management measures are affecting the business bottom line and community stability. Survey responses are confidential data, just like vessel trip, observer, and dealer reports, and protected by law from disclosure.

"We often hear that more attention should be paid to the economic and social effects of fishery regulations on fishermen, ports, and communities," says Murphy. "If you believe that the cost of running a fishing business should be part of story when policy decisions are made, then please help us to estimate and communicate those impacts. We need information about these impacts directly from the people who are experiencing them."

Responses to similar surveys conducted in the past have been used to evaluate recent fishery management actions. These include estimating impacts on businesses when groundfish at-sea monitoring costs are paid by vessel owners, assessing economic performance of general category IFQ sea scallop vessels, and estimating fixed costs for limited access general category scallops used in developing Amendment 19 and Framework 27 to that fishery management plan.

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