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Example of striped bass information on the Fish Rules app. Fishing location is determined by the phone's GPS, manually, or by using a map location. Species found in that location will appear; the user scrolls through the species and clicks on the one of interest. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Shelley Dawicki

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Sample screen shot of blue marlin information. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Shelley Dawicki

April 12, 2016
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Know the Rules: Free App Connects Anglers with Saltwater Fishing Regulations

Recreational fishermen from Maine to Texas can now keep track of saltwater fishing regulations just by looking at their smartphone. A free app, Fish Rules, provides images of various species for identification and lets fishermen know in real time if a fish is in season at their location, how many they can keep, minimum size, bag and vessel limit, and more.

Fish Rules was co-developed by Albrey Arrington, a recreational fisherman in Jupiter, Florida, to help himself and his friends understand recreational saltwater fisheries regulations when they were out on the water fishing in the Southeast. The app uses a smartphone’s GPS and calendar to show what state or federal regulations apply to a fishing location on a specific day, making compliance with fishing regulations easy.

“People often don’t know the regulations and are unaware of changes made year to year, or about areas closed for spawning during specific time periods. It can be hard to keep up and understand the regulations, especially if you fish at different locations,” said Scott Steinback, an economist in the Social Sciences Branch at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass. “Fish Rules makes it easy to comply because recreational fishermen have the most information at their fingertips, in a format that is easy to use and understand.”

Personal and Professional Interest

Steinback, an avid saltwater recreational fisherman himself, was looking for an app about recreational fishing regulations and came across Fish Rules almost two years ago. His initial interest was work-related: he wanted to improve the predictive ability of a model that he helped develop of Gulf of Maine cod and haddock. The model wasn’t capturing recreational fishing mortality quite right, a factor Steinback thought could be due to inadvertent non-compliance with the regulations.

After finding Fish Rules online, Steinback contacted Arrington, who has a Ph.D. in ecology and population biology and is currently executive director of the Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District in Florida. The app, which Arrington co-developed in 2011 with Rick Blalock, an app architect and fishing buddy, initially covered state and federal waters from Texas to North Carolina. Fishing regulations for the Bahamas are also included in the app.

Arrington was interested in expanding use of Fish Rules, and was open to the idea of getting the National Marine Fisheries Service involved to help spread the word among recreational fishermen. Since Steinback was interested in getting better data for his model, and in using the app himself when he went fishing, it was a win-win situation.

Nothing Like It Out There

“There was nothing out there like Fish Rules, so folks at NOAA Fisheries were interested in making the app more useful by expanding its range, and in encouraging more anglers to comply with ever-changing regulations,” Steinback said. “And I wanted to use it when I went fishing, no matter when or where that was along the coast. Even if you are at sea with no signal, you can manually select your location to see the relevant regulations.”

Working with Arrington, Steinback applied for NOAA Fisheries funding to expand the Fish Rules app to include saltwater fishing regulations for the Northeast region, from North Carolina to Maine. He, Arrington and Blalock spent months getting state and federal recreational fishing regulations into the app, making sure the information is current, and making sure it complied with NOAA Fisheries policy.

“Fish Rules has a lot of potential,” said Steinback, who continues to work with Arrington to update the app as information and regulations change. “With download and usage of this free app, compliance with recreational regulations will be improved.”

Fishermen can learn about various species through the fish identification feature, and they can post images of fish they caught to other platforms like Facebook. Anglers can also interact with the regulations in the app.

“If they’re not sure what ‘fork length’ means, they can tap on that specific regulation to get more details. If they see ‘Closed Season,’ they can tap the screen to see when the season will open,” Steinback said. “Perhaps one day anglers will even volunteer information that will help us fill in gaps in information about the species they are catching.”

Fish Rules is available for both iPhone and Android in the App Store and the Google Play Store.

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