Few coastal anglers would argue that there is not a more controversial fishery in the Gulf of Mexico than the Red Snapper fishery. Because of its popularity among recreational anglers and commercial fishers, the snapper population dwindled to alarming levels in the 1980s. This resulted in the implementation of a federal management plan to stop the overfishing. For the last four years, Irving-based Elemental Methods has been developing systems to collect catch data critical to understanding the health and viability of the Red Snapper fishery, along with other saltwater and freshwater fisheries.
In 2011, the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi tapped Irving-based Elemental Methods, LLC to develop a new mobile application and web portal to prove the viability of electronic reporting of fishing catch data by charter and headboat captains. While the fishing vessels were at sea, the catch data was recorded using iPads. When the fishing vessels returned to cellular range, the data was automatically transmitted to a web portal. Using the portal, the captains could edit and update their catch information. On a weekly basis, the data was automatically transmitted to the Gulf of Mexico Fishing Council and the US Commerce Department.
“We piloted the ‘iSnapper’ app during the 2011 season and found it to be overwhelmingly successful,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation Director and HRI Endowed Chair of Fisheries and Ocean Health, “Red snapper represents a vital economic commodity for coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico and ‘iSnapper’ gives fishery managers a portable application to aid in developing more effective management strategies for rapid recovery and optimization of this important fishery.”
“This is a simple way for anglers to actively participate in data collection — to say, ‘I want to be accountable and provide accurate data. This is what I caught today.’” The iSnapper mobile app is available in app stores now for iOS and Android, and will soon be available on Windows. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and its coastal fisheries leaders and biologists have also partnered with the CSSC on promoting the use of iSnapper by Texas anglers to voluntarily record their Red Snapper catches.
While some states, like Texas, have asked anglers to voluntarily log their Red Snapper catches, the State of Mississippi has taken a different approach. This year, recreational fishermen and captains of for-hire vessels were required to report their Red Snapper harvest landed in Mississippi. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) selected Elemental Methods to develop the “Tails n’ Scales” system for collecting catch data.
“The purpose of this electronic reporting system is to provide fishery managers the best available data to ensure Mississippi anglers the most opportunities and greatest flexibility for Red Snapper harvest,” said Matt Hill, director the MDMR’s Finfish Bureau. “The mandatory reporting system will provide for accurate and timely data that will be used for better resource management.” Anglers with smartphones can download the “Tails n’ Scales” mobile app in the iTunes App Store or Google Play. They also can use the website, www.tailsnscales.org.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico. The council is currently holding a series of public hearings and scoping workshops to discuss and take public comment on three proposed amendments that could change how the Red Snapper fishery is managed. At the same time, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would shift authority from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service to a state-run management plan supported by the directors of marine fisheries agencies in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“While oversight of the Red Snapper fishery remains controversial, the catch data collected using systems developed by Elemental Methods will be used by marine biologists and fisheries managers at all levels to help determine the future of the fishery,“ said Michael Christopher, Managing Director at Elemental Methods. “The ability to collect timely and accurate catch data from recreational fishermen is a major challenge to fisheries management. These systems will provide information critical for decisions by federal and state managers to keep fish populations stable and prevent overfishing.”