Hawai‘i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey (HMRFS)

A cooperative project funded by:

DLNR Logo noaa logo sport fish restoration logo

Beginning in 2001, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) began collecting marine recreational fishery data in Hawai‘i, administered through the Hawai‘i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey (HMRFS). Data will be collected through the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey (MRFSS), which has been conducted in the continental U.S. since 1979. DAR staff will collect catch data at various sites around the state. Access sites are distributed among shoreline, private boats, boat ramps, marinas, and charter boats. To estimate the total number of fishing trips and anglers, telephone interviews of Hawaii households and charter boat captains will be conducted by NMFS and DAR, respectively.The DAR is providing staff and base level funding to support HMRFS sampling in Hawai‘i. Their experience and knowledge of local recreational fisheries will help to maximize the efficiency of the HMRFSS in Hawaii. The NMFS will contribute funds to increase sample size and coverage as well as provide administrative experience and statistical support to DAR staff. From 2001 through September 2008, personnel will have completed over 20,000 field interviews, 50,000 telephone interviews and almost 3,000 interviews of charter boat captains.


The State of Hawai‘i (Territory before 1959) has collected commercial catch and effort data since the late 1940’s from commercial fishermen on mandatory catch reports, and from other sources since the early 1900’s. It has not collected data on non-commercial marine fishing by any systematic means, although occasional surveys have been fielded. Hawai‘i does not have a mandatory recreational marine fishing license as many other coastal states do, and does not have mandatory reporting of recreational catches. Neither did Hawai‘i have a comprehensive recreational fishing creel survey until recently. Glazier (1999) compiled and documented all existing studies and reports on recreational fishing, including any recreational fishing surveys conducted in recent history.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service conducts a telephone survey every five years where they estimate the total numbers of fishermen and hunters in each state. The 1995 survey (published in 1996) estimated that about 260,000 people fished recreationally in Hawai‘i in that year, of which about half were residents. The estimated 130,000 Hawai‘i residents who fish recreationally far outnumber the 3,500+ licensed commercial fishermen in Hawai‘i. However, good estimates of the total catch and effort by the non-commercial sector are lacking and guesses as to the total harvest taken by non-commercial fishing vary widely depending on whether one believes that non commercial fishermen take more or less fish than commercial fishermen. What is certain is that non-commercial fishermen take a substantial amount of fish and the lack of non-commercial catch and effort information makes it very difficult to make fishery management decisions that attempt to accommodate all sectors of the fisheries. Likewise, the interests of non-commercial fishermen suffer because of “lack of representation” and uncertainty about the impacts of management decisions, good or bad, on their sector simply due to lack of information.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s Pelagic Fisheries Recreational Data Task Force was formed in 1999 to assess the status of recreational fishing data collection in Hawaii and to recommend solutions to the Council. The Task Force was formed in response to a developing international agreement to manage tuna and billfish in the Pacific Ocean, called the Multilateral High-level Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific (MHLC). The MHLC resulted in the formation of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. The commission could eventually allocate harvest quotas among various Pacific fishing nations, depending on the total harvest of each country. If recreational fish catch were not counted, it would be possible for recreational fishermen to be denied a harvest allocation when these allocations were made.

Representatives from the Task Force, the Council, and the Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources (HDAR) attended the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Marine Recreational Fisheries Symposium in San Diego CA in 2000. They met with Ms. Maury Osborn, then task leader for the NMFS Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey program (MRFSS) and were able to obtain a commitment from NMFS to support a return of the MRFSS survey to Hawaii after an absence of 20 years.

How the Survey Works

The MRFSS program uses a dual survey approach that has been developed over the 20+ years of its history. For each two-month survey period (wave) a random sample of households is called by telephone to determine how many have done any fishing in the ocean, their mode of fishing (private boat, rental boat, charter boat, or shoreline), what methods were used, and how much effort (number of trips and hours) was expended. Concurrently, surveyors are sent out to boat launch ramps, small boat harbors, and shoreline fishing sites to interview fishermen to fill out intercept survey forms. The intercept survey collects data on fishing area, fishing methods, trip/effort, species caught, and lengths and weights of fish. The sites are randomly selected, but stratified by fishing pressure so that the sites with the highest pressures are likely to be surveyed more often. In addition, charter boat fishermen are surveyed by a separate charter boat telephone survey and the intercept survey. The telephone and intercept survey forms were customized to fit Hawaii conditions.

The telephone survey data are used to estimate total statewide fishing effort and the intercept surveys provide detailed catch and trip information. Data from the two surveys are combined and expanded by computer to yield statewide estimates of total effort and catch by species, mode, and county. For more information on the MRFSS program and survey methods, please go to the MRIP website.

The Hawai‘i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey Project

Mike Nelson (HDAR) and Maury Osborn, assisted by Walter Ikehara (HDAR), developed a cooperative agreement with NMFS to initiate the Hawai‘i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey (HMRFS). NMFS and HDAR would contribute joint funding for intercept surveys and charter boat surveys on the islands of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, and Maui. NMFS funded the Random Digit Dialing household telephone survey via their national contractor beginning in January 2001. The HMRFS project started up in July 2001, with Walter Ikehara as the HDAR coordinator and Mike Nelson as survey manager. Four surveyors were hired in the first year (July 2001 – June 2002) and began surveys of private boat and charter boat fishermen in late 2001.

The Task Force continued to support the effort by HDAR and NMFS to field the HMRFS survey and Task Force members provided valuable input on the intercept and telephone survey forms at the start of the project. In addition, the Task Force has sought to collect data on niche sectors of the recreational fishery, especially with regard to the “purely” recreational fishermen, those fishermen who never sell catch. It is well known that many “recreational” fishermen in Hawaii are actually expense fishermen who sell surplus catch to pay trip expenses. They do not classify themselves as commercial fishermen although Hawai‘i State law requires anyone who sells any catch to possess a commercial marine license.

Summary data is available via the MRIP website after being cleared by MRFSS and HDAR for publication. Raw data sets will be available to authorized users.

A total of 13 surveyors, 1 data manager, and 1 project manager are now employed under the HMRFS project. Island by island, the staff breakdown is:

  • Big Island – 4 surveyors
  • Maui – 1 surveyor
  • Moloka‘i – 1 surveyor
  • O‘ahu – 6 surveyors, 1 data manager, 1 project manager
  • Kaua‘i – 1 surveyor.

Mike Nelson, the original project manager, left in September 2002 and was replaced by Matthew Parry in December 2002. Dr. Parry left the project and was replaced by Jeff Muir in February 2005.  Dr. David Van Voorhees is the current leader of the NMFS MRFSS program. HDAR continues to work with MRFSS staff to improve and expand the project to provide usable recreational fishing data to HDAR, NMFS, and the Council and to support the management needs of recreational fishermen.

Fisheries Management

Marine recreational and subsistence fishing, or angling, is an important activity to many residents of Hawai‘i. People fish for food and recreation, and “fishing tourism” is also an important part of Hawai‘i’s economy. However, like many popular human activities, angling can have significant impacts on the resource. Fishery managers must understand the needs and activities of Hawai‘i’s recreational and subsistence fishers if they are to ensure quality marine fishing for future generations.

Although the activity of a single recreational fisher is not likely to be significant, the combined activity of all Hawai‘i fishers represents a tremendous amount of fishing effort. Understanding the biological impact and social importance of recreational and subsistence fishing is a vital part of the management process because it helps decision-makers develop wise policies.

To properly manage fishery resources, fishery managers must gather reliable statistical data. These data include the number, length and weight of fish harvested, the composition of the catch, the numbers of people fishing, and the total number of trips that they make.

Of equal importance are social and economic information about the participants themselves.

By knowing your age, gender, annual income, and amount of time and money spent angling, managers can develop innovative programs to manage the resource while minimizing the impact of regulations. Although these questions are sometimes of a personal nature, they help managers understand how policy decisions affect anglers, the recreational fishing industry, and coastal communities. Hawai‘i is not scheduled for social and economic data collection in 2001, but it is hoped that these data will be collected in the near future.

How will the data be used?

The HMRFS will provide essential data to DAR, NMFS, and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Resource managers will use the data to improve stock assessments, study species life cycles, and develop recommendations for regulatory and allocation decisions. In addition the data collected will…

  • Contribute to damage assessments for oil spills, pollution, and other accidents that degrade recreational fisheries.
  • Contribute to the planning of habitat conservation and restoration strategies important to fishery resources.
  • Help DLNR / Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) forecast demand for new piers, marinas, and boat ramps, and to locate these facilities where they will be most useful.
  • Provide additional information to support the FAD program, Artificial Reefs and various recreational fishing programs in Hawaii.


As a recreational or subsistence fisher, you can play an important role in Hawaii fisheries management. Your cooperation with HMRFS field and telephone interviewers will help ensure that marine angling in Hawaii remains a productive and rewarding experience. For more information about the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistical Survey Program or provide feedback, visit the MRIP website or contact the survey manager (currently vacant).

Good Luck and Great Fishing!!


HMRFS Brochure (pdf, 3.1 Mb)


HMRFS Newsletter June 2011 (pdf, 548 Kb)
HMRFS Newsletter October 2006 (pdf, 219 Kb)
HMRFS Newsletter November 2004 (pdf, 1.4 Mb)
HMRFS WAVE Report February 2003 (pdf, 204 Kb)
HMRFS WAVE Report March 2002 (pdf, 1.5 Mb)

HMRFS Survey Forms

Sample HMRFS Intercept Survey Form (pdf, legal size, 266 Kb)


Hawaii Marine Recreational Fishing Survey

Department of Land & Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources
1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813
Voice: 808-587-0100
FAX: 808-587-0115

Survey Manager Tom Ogawa
Data Manager Steve Kaneko
Survey Workers David Akimoto, Imiola Akutagawa, Richard Beebe, Gary Boteilho, Jason Chang, Patrick Conley, Matt Dill, Kekai Edens, Genesis Enos, Brian Esteban, Byron Hardwick, Nate Nam, and Larry Spalding

U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
National Marine Fisheries Service, F/ST1, RM 12455
1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910

MRFSS Task Leader David A. Van Voorhees
MRFSS Statistician Thomas Sminkey

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Our sincere appreciation to Michael A. Nelson, first HMRFS survey manager, and Maury F. Osborn, former MRFSS Task Leader, who were instrumental in bringing NMFS and DAR together to bring MRFSS back to Hawaii. Our gratitude to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Honolulu Laboratory and Western Pacific Fishery Information Network for advice and generous donations of computer equipment in support of the HMRFS project. Mahalo to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, especially the Recreational Data Task Force headed by the late Mr. Richard Shiroma, for their encouragement and support of recreational fisheries data collection.