An unusual social sciences study just getting underway in Massachusetts will measure the value of the recreational saltwater fishing experience by surveying those who actually go fishing or plan to go fishing in 2012.
Most economic studies of saltwater recreational fishing
estimate the number of jobs and the amount of sales and income
supported by the spending of saltwater recreational fishermen in the
state, but have not included the value anglers themselves place on
being able to go saltwater fishing.
“Being able to improve evaluation methods by comparing
responses to real offers with responses to hypothetical offers will be a
great benefit, and that’s what this study is intended to give us,”
said Scott Steinback, the NOAA economist who designed the study.
“Studies like this have been done to value other kinds of intangible
benefits like recovering endangered species or valuing open space, but I
think this is the first time it has been used to value the pleasure
and satisfaction derived from recreational fishing,” he said.
The resulting data will thus allow researchers to validate and
improve frequently used economic evaluation methods by gathering data
from anglers themselves about the value they place on recreational
fishing, a topic Steinback has studied for about 20 years.
Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke
University, called the recreational saltwater fishing permit survey a
very interesting and important study that could benefit many other
fields of research.
“For a long time, we have been doing studies asking people for
their intuition, what they believe will happen. In this particular
case, the study is going to contrast beliefs to actual decisions -
actual decisions when the money is in front of you. Hypothetical
questions and how we respond to them is central to a lot of other
questions,” Ariely said. “If we find that there are substantial biases
between these approaches, it would be easy to conduct more hypothetical
studies to get a sense for what would be the response if they saw it
in front of them.”
The survey is being managed by Quantech, Inc, a statistical
analysis and survey research firm, for NOAA Fisheries Service and the
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, which maintains the state’s
recreational saltwater fishing permit registry. The state is providing
a list of randomly selected recreational fishing permit holders who
will be mailed the survey. Participation is voluntary and individual
information is confidential.
NOAA Fisheries has allocated $145,000 to conduct the study,
about $75,000 of which is set aside for cash incentives being offered
to 500 of the 1,900 randomly selected permit holders to help determine
the value people place on access to saltwater angling.
The survey involves three “treatments” or survey approaches.
The first treatment, being mailed to 500 people, includes a written
survey plus an actual check in an amount ranging between $15 and $500
that can be cashed in exchange for the recipient giving up their
Massachusetts saltwater angling permit for the remainder of 2012.
The second treatment, being mailed to 700 anglers, includes a
survey with hypothetical cash incentives offered in the same varying
amounts as those offered in the first treatment but without an actual
check in that amount enclosed. The third treatment, being mailed to 700
people, includes the same survey but asks the recipient what amount
they would be willing to pay; the amounts to choose from are the same
as those in the other treatments.
The first surveys were mailed February 23, 2012 and will
continue monthly through May. Those receiving the survey are notified
in advance of the initial mailing to explain the importance of the
study, why it is being conducted, and who is conducting it.
Those who receive checks can cash them at any time during a
specified time period, approximately 45 days after they receive the
check, but in return are asked to give back their 2012 permit. Mailings
remind recipients to think carefully before responding.
Steinback and other NOAA economists will compare the rates of
acceptance between the real and the hypothetical offers to evaluate
differences between the approaches and to, ultimately, calculate the
total dollar value anglers place on recreational fishing in
Steinback says the focus of the study is about measuring the
value of recreational fishing in Massachusetts, and not about an
attempt to raise fishing permit fees or prohibit people from enjoying
the recreational saltwater fishing experience.
“I understand if there are some questions and concerns because
this kind of survey has not been done before, but it is not about
taking anything away. Rather, I see it as a way to provide a monetary
estimate of ‘angler satisfaction’,” he said. “Recreational anglers
spend a lot of money to enjoy their passion, and this study will allow
us to place a value on the level of satisfaction anglers receive, above
and beyond their out of pocket costs. It is a return on investment for
everyone: we want to provide the best possible information to enable
them to continue to do so.”
“I am a big fan of the endowment effect: once people own
something they think about it very differently,” said Ariely, who also
serves as a visiting professor at MIT’s Program in Media Arts and
Sciences. “The fact that government agencies are collaborating and
doing some experiments or studies like this permit survey rather than
relying on intuition or hypothetical responses is a positive thing.”
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