Friday, September 9, 2011
September 8, 2011, AFS Seattle. Electronic frontiers in fisheries.
The third revolution will enable a centralized data-management system with access nodes that can be used by fishermen, managers, fish marketers, fisheries scientists, and consumers. Amazingly, this type of system is already up and running off the coast of Washington and Oregon. The system can be used by fishermen to understand, in real-time, when and where threatened stocks of salmon are being caught; information that allows fishermen to avoid those areas thus conserving endangered stocks and allowing them to continue to fish populations that are doing well. Fisheries scientists are using the system to access data that they will analyze to improve their understand fish biology and ecology. The fish caught in the fishery are even given an ID tag so consumers can see where, when and who caught the fish they buy at the market......pretty amazing and powerful stuff, and a huge improvement on a system where redundant reporting on hand-written forms can drive fishermen (and managers) crazy.
The old system is confusing, labor intensive and lends itself to mistakes and errors. Plus, the information under the old system takes one-way path to managers, and the opportunity to USE that information for the benefit of the fishermen and the local community is lost. For more information on the project that Gil Sylvia has been working on with lots of other people, visit: http://pacificfishtrax.org/
Although much of the day was spent discussing the technological and practical challenges of implementing such a system (not the least of which are transmitting the data from the boats and the interest and technological capacity of fishermen), a number of different groups, including The Nature Conservancy, and private fishing industry members, are developing the software and hardware to begin implementing these types of systems on all coasts of the U.S.
One of the most interesting talks, however was presented by Catherine O'Keefe, a PhD student at the University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth (student of Dr. Steve Cadrin) who has used low-tech methods to provide real-time information on the distribution of yellow-tail flounder (rare species) to scallop fishermen. The scientists on the project did this by making a gridded map and having the fishermen provide information on where they caught yellow-tail flounder through email from the boats. The scientists compiled this information and provided fast-response warning about the location of "hot spots" where yellow-tail flounder were caught. Fishermen used this information to avoid these areas and have substantially reduced their catch of yellow-tail flounder. This is important for the conservation of the species AND the fishermen because the flounder remain in the water and because the fishermen must stop fishing for scallops once they catch their allotted quota of yellow-tail flounder.