The ACCSP was established in 1995 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to address data deficiencies that constrained the management of fisheries along the Atlantic coast. These deficiencies included incompatibilities between state and federal data systems, a lack of standardized trip-level catch and effort reporting, a lack of universal permit and vessel registration data, and a general need for more and better data to support emerging fisheries management initiatives. The Program established four basic principles to ensure that fisheries-dependent statistics are complete, accurate, consistent, and compatible:
- Cooperative development and implementation across jurisdictional lines;
- Coastwide data collection standards and a single, integrated data management system;
- Data on all fishing activities (e.g., commercial, recreational, and for-hire fisheries); and
- Modular design for data collection and data management projects.
The Program’s 23 state and federal partner agencies had long recognized the need for complete, accurate, and timely fishery data. Partners especially wanted standardized fisheries-dependent data, those collected on commercial, for-hire, and recreational fishing activity. When they signed the MOU, it was not yet clear which partner would provide the ACCSP with administrative support. In the mid-to-late 1990s, funds from partner contributions from the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (ACFCMA) provided for a single employee and some committee work to design the program. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) volunteered to host the staff and conduct the required meeting planning. The other partners agreed that ASMFC was the ideal choice since it had the flexible infrastructure to support the Program.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, after the Program officially began, funding from ACFCMA contributions supported the establishment of committees to develop the first edition of the program design. The committees also created minimum standards and operating procedures. These committees included a variety of technical committees, an advisory committee, a steering committee (named the Operations Committee), and a policy level committee (named the Coordinating Council). The minimum standards that the committees were instructed to develop were based on needs for fisheries stock assessments and management. The committees were also instructed to evaluate current practices, not necessarily preserve the status quo, and were asked to give little weight to possible cost implications. New minimum standards included the type and resolution of data that should be collected, minimum data elements with standard codes, improved timeliness of data submissions, and quality control and assurance practices.
By 1999, data collection standards were nearly complete and partners submitted their first funding proposals for implementing program standards. An increase in funding allowed the Program and partners to begin implementation. ASMFC hired permanent staff to coordinate data collection programs, continue the evolution of standards, and create and operate the Data Warehouse. Projects were also outlined for areas where standards needed additional research. As the ACCSP and its federal appropriations continued to grow with increased outreach efforts, the public became more aware of it. The Coordinating Council wished to address public concerns regarding the integrity of data collected by the same entities using it for fisheries management. Separation of the ACCSP from regulatory bodies, to the extent practical, was seen to help address those perception problems, thus the governance of the Program is independent of ASMFC.
In 2001, the program partners recognized the need for stronger leadership at the staff level and reorganized the Program under a Director. The Director, with guidance from the Coordinating Council, has executive authority to manage ongoing development and operation of the program and has responsibility for day-to-day operations and staff oversight. Also in 2002, the ACCSP deployed the online Data Warehouse, which provides users with coastwide, consolidated data contributed by the partners.
The Standard Atlantic Fisheries Information System (SAFIS), a real time, web-based data entry system for dealer reported landings was deployed first in Rhode Island in 2003 and expanded to cover NOAA Fisheries Northeast dealers in 2004. SAFIS meant program partners could collect data from fishing constituents without the associated printing, mailing, and data entry costs. While SAFIS allowed centralized data collection, those data were, and are, still collected under the authority of the associated program partners. Moreover, those partners check and approve their data before they are transferred, ensuring that the information found in the Data Warehouse is the best available data on the Atlantic coast.
Beginning in 2007, the Program began working in cooperation with NOAA Fisheries and its state partners to bring together commercial landings data. By working with the partners to develop a comprehensive coast wide data set, the Program is able to populate the Data Warehouse at a finer resolution and provide data for inclusion in the annual publication Fisheries of the United States (FUS).
In 2009, SAFIS was expanded to add commercial and recreational vessel trip reports for many state partners. Commercial and for-hire fishermen in states that use the tool were then able to submit their data electronically. More recently, a new SAFIS application has made it possible for recreational anglers to log their fishing data and additional functionality has been added to support the integration of NOAA Fisheries highly migratory species (HMS) data collection.
All data collected that meet ACCSP standards can be integrated into the online Data Warehouse. Partners are responsible for benchmarking both recreational and commercial programs to allow maximum use of historical data while implementing the Program’s standards. Benchmarking is necessary to ensure that data will be continuous, compatible, and useful for stock assessment and fisheries management purposes.
In early 2012, the Program released the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Data Collection Standards. This document was the third iteration of the program design and illustrates the collaborative process of the Program. The Standards provides direction on future improvements for Atlantic coast commercial, recreational, and for-hire fisheries statistics, as well as defines policies, data collection, and data management standards for the ACCSP.
Also in 2012, the Program conducted an extensive Independent Program Review. This review resulted in a number of recommendations intended to make the Program more efficient and improve its ability to respond to partner needs. In 2013 work began on the first mobile version of the eTRIPS, a hand held version of SAFIS for vessel trip reporting, and a strategic plan began to be developed. In early 2014, the Coordinating Council approved the 2014-2018 ACCSP Strategic Plan.