Phone Apps and Fisheries: How angler-driven technology is helping our sportfisheries

Quentin Hall – Research Specialist | Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute
Phone Apps and Fisheries: How angler-driven technology is helping our sportfisheries
Jen Thomasson, Director of the Babes on the Bay fishing tournament. In response to this year’s freeze, Thomasson’s planning team has integrated phone app technology that allows for all fish caught during the tournament to be immediately released. This is the first year the tournament is catch and release only.

Most of us anglers are technology nerds. Between GPS, radar, sonar, auto-pilots, and a myriad of other electronic gadgetry, it is easy to spend more money on electronics than a boat itself. Advances in fishing technology have made consistently locating and accessing fish easier and safer for anglers across the globe. Technological advances have also created opportunities for live-release fishing tournaments, recreational fisheries data collection, and the opportunity for more informed management decisions. To these ends, leaders from all facets of Texas’ marine recreational fisheries are using phone application (app) technology to develop wiser and more sustainable sportfishing practices. 

Babes on the Bay Tournament

For the last 21 years, the Babes on the Bay tournament has drawn hundreds of new female anglers into the marine sportfishing community. Jen Thomasson has been the Tournament Director for Babes on the Bay since 2018 and has kept the tournament going through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19 chaos, and the worst freeze to hit the Texas coast in over a century. Despite these challenges, Thomasson and her team have remained true to the tournament’s commitment to “instill an attitude of conservation” in participating anglers. In the wake of the recent freeze, Thomasson and her CCA-Texas Aransas Bay partners felt compelled to make this year a release-only event for the first time in the tournament’s history. After an exhaustive search, the planning team settled on the “Fishing Chaos” phone app that has been used successfully by other Gulf coast tournaments in Alabama and Florida.

Thomasson explained, “The obvious benefit of using an app like Fishing Chaos is that anglers no longer need to retain fish and can release them within minutes. Anglers photograph fish per tournament rules and then upload the photo using the app. There are no submission limits as the app culls the fish by length and time submitted to create your four-fish ‘stringer’.” There were also multiple steps taken to ensure that reports are accurate and honest. Even more useful, the app allows tournament anglers to access their real-time standings within the tournament. According to Thomasson, “Overall, there is tremendous support for the app. It is something new to all our lady anglers, but in the end, they understand why we chose this format. The fishery must come first, especially after the recent freeze.

The Babes on the Bay tournament stands as a testament to continuing our fishing traditions while also incorporating new technologies that promote wise stewardship of our marine sportfisheries. Thomasson and her team look forward to continued innovation, saying “[We] have been approached by two other large tournaments wanting to use the Fishing Chaos app. We are currently learning from our 2021 tournament to iron out details as we look forward to improving this technology for future events.”    

iSnapper Program

The iSnapper program was created in 2011 as a way for charter for-hire captains to self-report their effort and harvest data, particularly for Red Snapper. Tara Topping with the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation has coordinated the iSnapper program since 2014, refining the app to include private recreational anglers and “provide a fast and easy way of delivering key data to fisheries managers.” This data has become so important that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) partnered with the iSnapper program in 2015. Topping explained, “The iSnapper program has proven particularly useful since 2018 when Texas first received an exempted fishing permit allowing the state to manage its own federal Red Snapper season. iSnapper estimates are run alongside TPWD estimates on a biweekly basis to ensure the state does not exceed its quota, a key component of allowing state management of the federal Red Snapper season to continue in its present form.”

Topping continued, “One of the great things about revamping this app is being able to go out and actually talk with anglers. Most iSnapper users we encounter are happy with the app and understand its purpose. We call them our ‘citizen scientists’ because every trip they submit provides us with valuable data that we would not be able to collect ourselves. There are far more anglers than fisheries biologists!” 

Boiled down, TPWD compares iSnapper’s data with its traditional recreational harvest estimates to ensure anglers are able to harvest as many fish as possible without exceeding the quota set by federal management agencies. If the quota is exceeded, anglers will see shorter future season lengths due to payback provisions wherein harvest overages are deducted from the following year’s quota. In the fisheries research and management realm, data rules supreme. Texas’ fisheries managers need iSnapper data to ensure that the federal season continues to be managed by TPWD and that overharvest penalties are not incurred. Every angler who wants increased access to the federal Red Snapper fishery in Texas should download iSnapper and get involved. 

Download the app for free at:

iSnapper video:

The Future of Fishing Apps

Current challenges within our marine sportfisheries almost ensure the continued development of fishing app technology. This could not be more apparent than with the unreported effort in Texas’ recreational flounder gigging fishery. Management agencies across the Gulf of Mexico are faced with extreme challenges when trying to estimate nighttime recreational flounder gigging effort, especially since flounder populations are declining across the entire region. Traditional angler-intercept creel survey methods used during the day cannot easily be applied at night for a multitude of reasons. Given that gigging – a nighttime activity – is the predominant method for recreationally harvesting flounder within most of Texas, management agencies are looking for novel ways to account for this previously undocumented harvest. The iSnapper app is already capable of recording fish harvest (including flounder) at any time of day. Integrating this type of technology could prove to be the answer.

Each of us is exposed to an unbelievable amount of “noise” surrounding technological developments on a daily basis. There is always something newer, better, or more exciting. For our own sanity, most of us have learned to tune this noise out or simply dismiss it as a gimmick. However, it is important for anglers to understand how much app technology can improve the management and sustainability of Texas’ marine sportfisheries. These apps are simple tools that allow tournament planners, tournament participants, and everyday anglers alike to ensure the future for our marine sportfisheries. Many serious anglers are interested in giving back to our living marine resources or participating as citizen scientists. Volunteering your fishing data through phone apps is a free and meaningful way to do just that.   

Quentin Hall is a Research Specialist and Angler Engagement Coordinator for the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute. He turned his lifelong fishing and hunting habits into a career, receiving dual bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Fisheries Management from the University of Missouri and his M.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A&M. While Quentin’s research focuses on a variety of studies ranging from juvenile sportfish recruitment dynamics to adult sportfish movements, his real passion is connecting anglers with the science supporting their fisheries.