For many years’ anglers fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico have asked for better data and information in hopes of getting longer fishing seasons in both state and federal waters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) listened and last year took action by creating the Gulf Reef Fish Survey.

Now they need participation from everyone on the water in order for it to effectively work and provide sound data in an effort to give anglers a fair season, while also protecting the stock of several very important species to coastal communities.

On April of 2015 it became mandatory to sign up for the survey if you’re targeting reef fish. The easy, no-cost process will help the FWC paint a clearer picture of how many people are targeting reef fish. It’s a simple addition to your fishing license when purchased or renewed each year.

The Gulf Reef Fish Survey is for anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico from a private boat, who plan to harvest, possess or land any of the following reef fish: red and vermilion snapper; gag; black and red grouper; gray triggerfish; greater and lesser amberjack; banded rudderfish; and almaco jack.

Through this program, researchers will be able to better determine how many people in Florida are fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many of those who sign up will be contacted by the FWC and asked if they would be willing to provide information about their Gulf reef fish fishing activities. The survey will improve recreational data collection, giving the FWC a better view of what’s happening on the water and allowing for more informed fisheries management decisions.

The current process for conducting recreational fisheries surveys, known as the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), is broad and doesn’t capture the amount and quality of data needed for effective management of reef fish species. It is, however, an effective method for conducting recreational fishing surveys for nearshore species such as redfish and spotted seatrout.

For example, one current method of collecting survey data is through telephone calls to coastal households. While some of these phone calls reach anglers who target Gulf reef fish, many of the people reached do not target these species and are not able to provide data about Gulf reef fish fishing trips.

The Gulf Reef Fish Survey will correct this problem by creating a comprehensive list of anglers who are targeting Gulf reef fish.

The program being mandatory ensures the most reliable and precise estimates by sampling the actual population of anglers that fish for reef fish in the Gulf. A voluntary system would misrepresent the number of recreational anglers that target and harvest Gulf reef fish and influence estimates of harvest and effort.

Anglers who are 65 or older, residents who are members of the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans with disabilities, and active or reserve duty military service members and their immediate family are required to sign up even though they are not required to purchase a fishing license.

The following anglers are not required to sign up for the survey; fishing from a for-hire vessel, under 16 years of age, people authorized by the FWC who are harvesting for scientific and educational purposes, or fishing from a vessel that has a valid recreational vessel fishing license.

To sign up online, visit license.myfwc.com, enter your date of birth and one of the required “lookup method” identifiers (social security number, FWC customer ID or driver’s license number). If you’re a new customer, you may have to create a customer account before you proceed to the next steps. Once you’re in the system, click “purchase a license” and add the no-cost Gulf reef fish angler to your cart and then check out. Make sure to print a copy to take with you when you are fishing.

You can sign up in person at tackle shops, sporting goods stores, and your local tax collector’s office, or by phone at 1-888-FISHFLORIDA (347-4356). Renewal will be on an annual basis, just like any one-year license.

To learn more about the Gulf Reef Fish Survey visit myfwc.com and look for it under the saltwater fishing section.