CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – After years of contentiously short fishing seasons, the 82-day federal Red Snapper season is set to open for private recreational anglers on Friday, June 1. Researchers at the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are asking anglers to use those extra fishing days to contribute vital data about their catch through the mobile app, iSnapper.
By downloading and using iSnapper, created by the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation (CSSC) at HRI, anglers can take an active role in helping to secure the long-term sustainability of this prized Gulf of Mexico fishery.
“Collecting timely, accurate data is extremely important to fisheries management,” said Tara Topping, a Sportfish Center research specialist and project leader for iSnapper. “We’re hoping with the 82-day season we can really get some good numbers. We need fishermen to get out there and input every single trip because that’s how we get accurate estimates using iSnapper.”
Topping said data submissions by fishermen have dropped as seasons have gotten shorter, attributing the decrease to a lack of opportunity to submit their catch data. Last year’s initial three-day season, set to be the shortest ever in federal waters, was so controversial that the U.S. Department of Commerce took the unprecedented move of ordering a 39-day extension.
Last year a total of 115 trips were reported, including both the initial and extended federal seasons. A total of 938 Red Snapper were reported harvested by just over 500 anglers.
This year’s longer season is the result of a two-year exempted fishing permit approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council that allows Texas and other Gulf states to set their federal seasons and manage their Red Snapper harvest for private recreational anglers.
Red Snapper is one of the most highly-targeted and controversial fish species in the northern Gulf. Considered overfished since the 1980s, anglers have seen a dramatic reduction in both the fishing season and bag limits in recent decades. But at the same time, anglers in the field are seeing more Red Snapper than ever, creating mistrust in the data that fishery managers are providing.
Challenges with calculating accurate harvest estimates during the short seasons have led to further restrictions of the season length, compounding the problem. iSnapper, originally piloted in 2011 for use by the for-hire fleet, was modified in 2015 to allow both for-hire and private anglers an easy, secure method of reporting their catch, and provide researchers with access to timely, accurate data about what private recreational anglers are catching.
The app was designed to be simple, fast, and easy to use on the go. After downloading and registering with iSnapper, anglers simply open a new trip and answer a few questions each time they head out on the water. It’s especially important to provide accurate vessel registration numbers during the registration process so data can be properly validated and recorded. Then, anglers can put their phones away for the rest of the day. On the way back to the dock, users can reopen iSnapper, record the number of fish they harvested, released and give a general fishing location. Moments later, the data is sent securely to researchers to generate catch statistics and better manage the Red Snapper fishery.
Fishermen can also save favorite fishing photos, get local weather reports, and view previously submitted trips.
The Sportfish Center is not new to the Red Snapper controversy and is currently out in the field conducting research for the “Great Red Snapper Count,” a $12 million study that aims to estimate the number of highly sought after Red Snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The institute is leading a team of some of the best fisheries scientists in the nation for the two-year independent study, bringing together 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency.
“We’ve assembled some of the best Red Snapper scientists in the world for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader, Sportfish Center director, and HRI Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”
The study, ordered by Congress, funded by NOAA Fisheries and the National Sea Grant College Program, and administered by Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, is meant to help solve the problem of estimating Red Snapper abundance in a large, diverse sea like the Gulf of Mexico.