The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ LA Creel survey, which kicked off almost four years ago in an attempt to provide more precise information on recreational fishing catch and effort — especially for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico — was certified by NOAA Fisheries on Friday.

It now officially replaces the Fed’s outdated Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) in state waters, making LA Creel eligible for federal funding to support ongoing improvements and implementation. The program uses a combination of data gathered through in-person interviews with biologists at docks and marinas, as well as weekly phone calls and email surveys to create harvest estimates.

“I think the certification certainly gives credibility to what we’ve been saying for years: That LA Creel is a robust data set that depicts a more accurate assessment of what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico, and is a very valuable tool for managing fisheries in the Gulf,” said Congressman Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge.) “This is a step in the right direction in regard to giving Louisiana more credibility in managing the fisheries offshore our state.”

Graves said the certification of LA Creel’s numbers was good news that one day might ultimately lead to more fishing opportunities in state waters. Although MRIP focused on federal species in the Gulf, including red snapper, LA Creel will be used to determine harvest efforts for all fish across the state. 

“I think it means that we’re going to have more prescriptive data. What I mean by that is we have to stop looking at the Gulf of Mexico as one body of water and recognize that you have different areas and different habitat with different populations of red snapper,” Graves said. “By getting a more accurate assessment and by being able to get more prescriptive data - for example, the areas off the different states - it’s going to allow us to do a better job managing the fisheries. 

“Rather than coming in and doing a one-size-fits-all, I think ultimately it will demonstrate that you can do more fishing days and higher limits without having an adverse effect on the stock.”

In the spring of 2014, the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill that raised the cost of a saltwater fishing license for state residents from $5.50 to $13 to fund the LA Creel program. 

The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana supported the legislation, and its executive director, David Cresson, said Friday the program has delivered on its promise.

“I’m very proud of CCA’s role in the beginning, because we took a leadership role in supporting a fee increase, which at the time was a little bit controversial amongst some in the angling world,” Cresson said. “But today’s news is validation that it was the right thing to do.

“CCA believed in what the end result would be, and fishermen around Louisiana did — and thank God they did — because now we have the gold standard program and are another step closer to state management.”

Chris Macaluso, marine fisheries director with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the folks at LDWF back when the program was created — as well as legislators and anglers across the state — should be congratulated for making LA Creel a reality.

“This is replacing a suspect federal data collection system with what has proven to be a superior program in terms of determining fishing effort and harvest in Louisiana,” Macaluso said. “When Louisiana decided to separate itself from MRIP, the idea was to create LA Creel and get the support from the Legislature and the license holders and the people who pay fees here in Louisiana to build this better data collection system, and it’s paid off. 

“A lot of credit has to go to our Legislature and our anglers in Louisiana for making this happen because there are other states that are struggling to get their programs fully-implemented because they haven’t had that legislative support or that increase in funding available. Without that increase, we wouldn’t have been able to develop this superior system.” 

Randy Pausina, who served as head of fisheries at the LDWF when the LA Creel program was created, said it was a true team effort with the department, CCA, the legislature and anglers across the state.

“Something needed to happen. Anglers were upset that they weren’t being treated fairly and we came up with a plan as an agency,” Pausina said. “… It’s MRIP on steroids. It fixed everything with MRIP that needed to be fixed, then added some stuff for us and stuff for them. It demonstrated the state’s ability to get things done, and get them done right.

“When everybody works together, good things like this can happen.”