iSnapper: A “Smart” Solution to Improve Red Snapper Management

Tara Topping, M.S., and Greg Stunz, Ph.D.
iSnapper: A “Smart” Solution to Improve Red Snapper Management
There is something that draws people to the Texas Gulf Coast. It might be the beautiful sunrises, or the relaxing sound of waves crashing on the beach, but to many of us, we are drawn to the sound of line screaming out of a reel when you hook up with a big fish! While Texas waters offer plenty of fish that are worthy table fare, red snapper is king and one of the most targeted offshore species. Unfortunately, because they are so highly sought after, the management of this fishery has become one of the most contentious in the United States. Red snapper have been considered overfished since the 1980s, and while the stock is rebuilding, anglers have seen a drastic reduction in both the fishing season and bag limits over the past several decades. Anglers are catching (and releasing) more red snapper recently, so it’s hard to understand why the season keeps getting shorter.  This has created uncertainty and skepticism over the data that fishery managers are using to manage this resource.

A major challenge to fisheries management is the ability to collect timely, accurate catch data from the private recreational fishing sector. Shorter fishing seasons for red snapper have created “derby” style fishing conditions making it difficult to collect catch and effort data using traditional creel surveys; thus, there is an overwhelming need for rapid in-season and real-time data collection. Currently, due to the lack of real-time data, the annual federal recreational harvest quota has a 20% buffer built in to help ensure that the quota is not exceeded. With the buffer in place, private anglers caught much less of the quota than allocated resulting in tremendous costs and economic losses to the fishery. This is a severe blow to recreational anglers resulting in very short seasons. Clearly, a data collection program that has the ability to rapidly and more accurately estimate the total number of fish harvested would help reduce this uncertainty and lower or potentially eliminate the need for the federal court-mandated buffer.

We have a solution, or at least a step in the right direction – iSnapper! This mobile application (app) has been recently developed by researchers at the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute as a unique way to gather fishing data. The app was initially created for the for-hire (i.e., charter captains) sector and was very successful. This new version is VERY different in that our targeted group is the everyday angler; a group for which better data collection is desperately needed to improve access to this fishery. And, you can help! The data from iSnapper will be used in addition to current TPWD  surveys to provide a means of rapid in-season (federal) and year-round – state – data collection. However, the only way to improve data collection is if Texas private recreational anglers download and use iSnapper to record their catch information. Academic researchers and TPWD need you to provide your catch data, which will directly benefit fishery management decisions from both a harvest and economic perspective! 

Despite being a data collection tool, iSnapper was created with fishermen in mind. No one wants to spend 15 minutes on their phone filling out a survey about their fishing trip after a long day of fishing. With iSnapper, you can complete the survey while you are idling into the boat ramp or marina, in 5 minutes or less! There are only 3 steps to submit a trip:
    •    Create a New Trip prior to leaving the dock. Once you begin a trip, you can put the phone away and enjoy your day fishing. 
    •    At the end of the day enter in the species and number of fish caught, as well as fishing depth and approximate fishing location.
    •    Submit the trip before you hit the dock. 

That’s it! Doing your part to help improve the red snapper fishery is easy and fun with iSnapper. The more anglers using the app, the better the data researchers receive, which is how you can make a difference in red snapper management!  Numerous additional features make iSnapper a great fishing tool in itself. These features include weather and tidal information, a listing of TPWD Artificial Reef sites, photographing your personal best fish and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter, or having scientists identify that peculiar fish you caught. These are only a few of the features that iSnapper provides to anglers as a way to make the app not only a data collection tool, but also a great resource to have in your pocket.  With iSnapper, private recreational anglers have a means to become “accountable” in the Red Snapper management process. Other sectors of the fishery have taken advantage of having “better” data to improve their access. iSnapper is your chance to let your voice be heard and to ensure that we can continue fishing for red snapper for generations to come. In order to improve red snapper management, we need help from anglers like you! Visit for more information or to input your catch without having to download the app. Either way, remember – use iSnapper and make Your Catch Count!

To learn more about the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute please visit:

Tara Topping is a marine biologist who was first introduced to the red snapper controversy while working on her M.S. in Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures at Auburn University.  Upon completion of her degree in 2011, she worked at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with both recreational and commercial fishermen, providing her a unique opportunity to interact with both user groups.  Recently hired by the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation, she is the program manager of iSnapper while also assisting with a variety of inshore and offshore research projects currently being studied by the Center.

Dr. Greg Stunz is a marine biologist that specializes in sport-fisheries.  He is the new director of the recently formed and CCA-funded Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation.  He holds the Endowed Chair of Fisheries and Ocean Health at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and is a Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Dr. Stunz was the first "G" CCA graduate scholarship recipient.  The Sportfish Research Center is currently focusing on habitat requirements of marine fish and migration patterns of marine life using a variety of state-of-the-art electronic tracking devices for fish such as sharks, red snapper, and dolphinfish.  The center also has a variety of projects dealing with red snapper and research directed toward understanding the importance of tidal inlets on sportfish populations.