5 ways technology can help sustainable fishing

By Thomas Debass 28 May 2015

Fishermen in the Solomon Islands use the lantern fishing method. Photo by: Wade Fairley / WorldFish / CC BY-NC-ND 

We live in an era of unprecedented technology. As of 2014, there were almost 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, with three quarters of that figure coming from developing countries. Close to 3 billion people, some 40 percent of the world population, are using the Internet, with almost one-third of people in developing countries online.

So how can we harness the power of technology to address the world’s greatest challenges?

Here at the U.S. State Department, we are applying a tech fix to the global issue of sustainable fishing with our Fishackathon initiative.

The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships organized the first Fishackathon last June in the days leading up to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference. This pilot partnership brought together more than 150 volunteer technologists at aquariums in five cities around the United States to build mobile phone apps for fishers in developing countries.

Given the success of last year’s event, we are excited to host the second annual Fishackathon on June 7 in 15 cities worldwide, culminating in World Oceans Day on June 8. We are looking for coders, designers, fisheries experts and enthusiasts as well as and curious citizens to join us for a weekend to #codeforfish and develop tech solutions to the most challenging issues around ocean health and sustainable fishing.

The “hacks” might approach the issues in a number of ways, but all center on finding innovative tools to either gather and synthesize data from the ground up, or disseminate information from the top down. What if we could develop — and implement — solutions around:

1. Tracking and monitoring.

More than 3.5 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein, and 80 percent of the world’s fishing stocks are overexploited. Could fishers around the world use a mobile platform to track their catches, control overfishing and even monitor the presence of invasive species?

2. Reporting.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a major issue in many developing countries, where dependence upon fish for food security and income makes them particularly vulnerable. IUU catches have an estimated global annual value of $9-12 billion, and illegal fisheries are often connected with human rights violations, exploitation, and environmental degradation. Could an app help fishers — or even consumers — improve their reporting mechanisms to reduce IUU fishing?

3. Registering.

Many fishers in developing countries face barriers in registering their boats, managing their fishing licenses, and more. Could local governments ensure that fishers, especially those in difficult-to-reach rural areas, understand the requirements, access the correct information and forms, and submit their documents electronically?

4. Identifying and educating.

Small-scale fisheries supply 50 percent of the fish caught for human consumption around the world, while many of us have friends and family who fish for sport. Could we develop an app to help fishers of all levels identify popular fish species, disseminate information on handling techniques and best practices, or even track market values of different fish?

5. Mapping.

Finally, how can we aggregate all of this data to form a clearer picture of fishing trends at the local, regional and global levels? Mapping tools and software would allow for the monitoring of invasive predator species, depletion of fish stocks and countless other trends so fishers, policymakers and consumers can all make better decisions around sustainable practices.

These are just a few ways technology could be a tool for sustainable fishing. We’d love to hear your ideas and watch you develop solutions at one of our upcoming Fishackathons. You can even check out the actual problem statements, comment on them, and start brainstorming solutions at our ChallengePost site.

Get involved, find an event and help us spread the word by starting at fishackathon.co and contacting us at partnerships@state.gov with any questions. Follow us on Twitter at @fishackathon, @GPatState and #codeforfish.

You can help shape our coverage on global development innovations. Let us know by leaving a comment below or by emailing news@devex.com.

About the author

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Thomas Debass

Thomas Debass has served as deputy special representative for global partnerships at the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships in the U.S. State Department since 2013. He is responsible for managing the office and provides leadership on partnerships related to economic growth, global finance, entrepreneurship and technology programming.


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