Interest Growing in the Citizen Science Program’s SAFMC Release Mobile App

(NEWSLETTER: Winter 2020)

The shallow water grouper annual spawning season closure is in effect, but data collection is still underway for SAFMC Scamp Release, the Council’s initial citizen science pilot project! So, if you encounter Scamp during the closed season – please join the growing number of fishermen in the project and share information on your released fish!


A scamp fishermen, courtesy of FWRI

A great deal of thought was put into determining the focus of the Citizen Science Program’s initial pilot project and the Council wanted to be sure the project filled a data gap. The issue of released fish came up again and again as an area where more research was needed, whether we were talking to fishermen or scientists. The number of released fish is increasing in many South Atlantic fisheries and fishermen, scientists, and managers all agree that more information is needed. Typically, data are limited on released fish, and unlike landed fish, they can’t be sampled back at the dock by traditional data collection programs. Having scientific observers onboard vessels to collect data on released fish is expensive and can be impractical and dangerous for small boat fisheries. Information on releases was listed as a research priority during the Council’s Citizen Science Program Design Workshop, in the Council’s research and monitoring plan, and in many SEDAR stock assessments. Therefore, citizen science seemed like a great approach to fill this critical data need. 


The SAFMC Scamp Release project came to life through a collaboration of scientists, fishermen, data managers, and app developers with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts. A mobile app, SAFMC Release, was developed to enable commercial and recreational fishermen to collect information on released fish. The app focuses on specific assessment and management needs, including fish length, depth fished, fishing location, hook location, and release treatment (e.g., use of barotrauma reduction devices). Photos can also be submitted to help validate lengths of released fish. Scamp was chosen as the species for the pilot project since a SEDAR stock assessment is underway for Scamp in 2020 and information collected through the project may be considered for use in the assessment. It is also a relatively small fishery, so data are not expected to be overwhelming for the new Citizen Science Program.


Interest in CitSci Project Spreading from Coast to Coast

Interest in the new app grew almost immediately while SAFMC Release was undergoing beta testing. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) was the first organization to approach the Council, app developer Harbor Light Software, and data partner Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) expressing interest in creating a similar app. NCDMF had an immediate need to collect information on recreationally released flounder due to upcoming regulatory changes. They were especially interested in the photo submission capabilities to assist with species identification and validation since specific species of flounder can be challenging to identify. NCDMF is currently working with Harbor Light Software and ACCSP to adapt the SAFMC Release app to fit their data needs through their own app, Catch U Later.


Other organizations, including the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Marine Fisheries and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, have expressed a similar need for information on released fish including Striped Bass and Red Drum. This growing interest led the Council to partner with NCDMF, ACCSP and Harbor Light Software, to submit a proposal that combines the SAFMC Release and Catch U Later apps into a single, flexible reporting tool that can be customized for other state and federal agencies along the Atlantic Coast to collect information on released fish. The proposal was accepted for funding and work will begin later this year. In addition to creating the customizable reporting app, the proposal will also increase the number of species that can be reported through SAFMC Release from a single species to all shallow water grouper (Red, Gag, Black, Scamp, Yellowfin and Yellowmouth Groupers; Red Hind; Rock Hind; Coney and Graysby) and for NCDMF, other state-specific species that can be hard to identify like trout and kingfish.   


There has also been interest in the SAFMC Release app from scientists on the West Coast. It’s amazing that a tool developed through the Council’s Citizen Science Program seems to be applicable to so many fisheries throughout the country. Stay tuned as the SAFMC Release project continues to grow and expand!


Contact Julia Byrd ( if you’re interested in joining or learning more about the SAFMC Scamp Release Project.


To keep up with the Council’s Citizen Science Program or receive information about getting involved in projects, please complete the online form to provide us with your contact info and join the email distribution list!

Curious Scamp Grouper, courtesy of NMFS


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