New Tools for Traditional Fisheries / by Francisco Blaha

As blogged before, I took a job that is a far distance from my usual topics... Bringing new tools to a traditional fishery.  I like to branch out sometimes, and is good for my "interest" and it challenges me to "see" things with a new mindset.

Not the usual image of the Pacific

Not the usual image of the Pacific

In Chile, benthic species, small pelagic and demersal fisheries, have historically been exploited by artisanal fishermen due to an initial open access to the fisheries and the opening of new global markets. Today, approx. 60,000 fishermen depend for their livelihoods and income on these declining resources. Despite the socioeconomic importance of the artisanal sector, its “development stage is precarious” due to organizational fragmentation and institutional weaknesses.

Understanding how small scale fisherman make ends needs with fishing is complicated, since the fresh fish trade involves transacting characteristics that are very difficult to be measured, without a specific ad hoc tool needed to understand the way fishing business works at small scale vessel level, furthermore the disparity of vessels characteristics at each location varies profoundly, hence making a generalist approach to the analysis of limited utility. Furthermore, the artisanal fishery organizational structures in Chile are highly complex and regionalised.

The understanding of the cost benefit reality for fisher operation, becomes even more relevant since the introduction of quotas, as the earnings of a fisher are based on a limited quantity of catch that has already a market value, hence knowing on trip by trip basis the earning and loss situation allows for catch planning. And if that wasn't enough, exclusivity fix price arrangements for catch do not reflect the cost of fishing due to the lack of a specific tool for that aim.

So mi first job was to adapt and update a spreadsheet we used in Samoa many years ago, to help the fisherman association to keep a much better tab on if they make money or the don't.

The spreadshhet is design to give a immediate appreciation of where they are in terms of cost benefit.

My next proposal is way more ambitious... from the findings it was clear that a tool that improves the transparency of the value chain, while providing traceability and information to fisher, buyers and authorities alike, could alleviate many of the shortcomings of the present scenario for many fisherman. 

In fisheries today, new ICTs are being used across the sector, from resource assessment, capture or culture to processing and commercialization. Some are specialist applications such as sonar for locating fish. Others are general purpose applications such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) used for navigation and location finding, mobile phones for trading, information exchange and emergencies, radio programming with fishing communities and Web-based information and networking resources. 

However many of these especially dedicated tools are in a cost range that exceed the financial capabilities of the fishers, or have to be install and removed form the vessels. However, the new generation mobile phones are incredible tools that bring together in one various different “technologies”, they are at once a personal locator beacon, a GPS navigation device, and GPS equipped camera, besides being a 2-way communication device.

Based on work prior done in East Timor and Indonesia plus a existing tool being used in the Caribbean, I proposed the development of a app containing a “suite” of tools that could be used from a mobile phone that could ally itself the following focal FAO focal points:

  1.  Fishing and trading activities: market and price information; advice and services; e-credit; e-government; post-harvest;
  2. People and communities: vulnerability reduction; increasing safety; social inclusion; social mobilisation (empowering fishing communities in owning and communicating information); advocacy;
  3. Resource management and conservation: monitoring, control and surveillance; co-management of fisheries resources.

So I proposed the conceptual design of a Android App (initially named “PescApp”). This app will open a “suite of services” that are at the disposition of the registered fishers including regulatory and traceability components as well as a market and trade services. 

The App concept is not new, the original was one in Trinidad and Tobago and it looks like the one illustrated here. I just expanded the concept to:

Navigation / Weather Information
Market Information and Auctio

However is important to point that  while all fisherman interviewed had a “intelligent” phone of some sort, and all of them reported having 3G signal up to 10 miles from shore (hence the technology and tools are well incorporated by the ultimate beneficiaries). The App are not expected to yield desired outcomes unless these are well articulated and drive the App design and implementation strategy.

A recent report in ITC in small scale fisheries topic, nails the complexity of this process: 

Rejuvenation of the small-scale fisheries sector with its complex interdependencies and rich ecosystem is not an easy, mechanical or even technical challenge. The integration of ICTs in the small-scale fisheries sector requires the development of various cognitive and skills-based capacities, as well as the formation, refinement and authentic ownership of new attitudes and behaviours. It calls for the human systems to be established to, in turn, articulate the various processes that in concert, aggregate to achieve bold, meaningful and consensual outcomes.
Technology cannot take the place of collaboration, engagement and negotiation, and can do little to take the place of time. Technology cannot provide a solution to the fundamental challenges, which limit participatory governance in fisheries anywhere in the world. It can only be as good as its human partners who must plan, design, implement and nurture the sector, its agents and its growth.