Wiki-fishing in Alaska / by Francisco Blaha

Came across this interesting article on a project by Alaskan small scale longliners. I would loved to have done something like that when I was fishing snapper here in NZ as to increase the selectivity. Wonder if we could apply this in the Pacific. Perhaps with long tail snapper?

 Back in the days when I fished snapper

Back in the days when I fished snapper

The original is from the Economist.

Stephen Road, a commercial longline fisherman in Alaska’s verdant south-east panhandle, fishes by two rules. One is: stay married. Mr Rhoads has seen countless marriages of fellow fishermen sink under the weight of so many days at sea. The second rule is: use fewer hooks. (Love both rules!)

Mr Rhoads works the Pacific halibut fishery, which opened for business on March 19th, using baited hooks strung off lines as long as three miles. Using as few hooks as possible and carefully targeting the desired species, Mr Rhoads explains, helps keep fish stocks healthy and smaller businesses afloat. To do so, he relies on a crowdsourced compendium of fishermen’s tales.

A war between small family fishing operations and Seattle-based companies pushed Alaska to statehood in 1959. The state’s $6 billion commercial fishing industry still suffers from a David-and-Goliath complex. Over the years, Alaskan halibut fishermen have faced big reductions in their harvest limits while factory trawlers dump millions of pounds of dead halibut overboard as by-catch. Quotas are becoming consolidated into fewer hands, and fishing permits are leaving Alaska’s small coastal communities and heading out of state. The average age of a fisherman in Alaska is 50, an increase of a decade since 1980.

Mr Rhoads is a member of a network started by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), which aims to do something about this and to reduce by-catch of sensitive species such as rockfish at the same time. Network fishermen, who numbered only 20 at the project’s start, agreed to share data on where and what they were catching in order to create maps that highlighted areas of high by-catch. Within two years they had reduced accidental rockfish harvest by as much as 20%.

 Once a young and skinny longliner crew (1996)

Once a young and skinny longliner crew (1996)

The rockfish mapping project expanded to create detailed maps of the sea floor, pooling data gathered by transducers fixed to the bottoms of boats. By combining thousands of data points as vessels traverse the fishing grounds, these “wikimaps”—created and updated through crowdsourcing—show gravel beds where bottom-dwelling halibut are likely to linger, craggy terrain where rockfish tend to lurk, and outcrops that could snag gear.

Public charts are imprecise, and equipment with the capability to sense this level of detail could cost a fisherman more than $70,000. Skippers join ALFA for as little as $250, invest a couple of thousand dollars in computers and software and enter into an agreement to turn over fishing data and not to share the information outside the network, which now includes 85 fishermen.

Skippers say the project makes them more efficient, better able to find the sort of fish they want and avoid squandering time on lost or tangled gear. It also means fewer hooks in the water and fewer hours at sea to catch the same amount of fish. A healthy fleet benefits welders and boatwrights in turn. “If the entire fleet comes up from Seattle,” says Mr Rhoads, “we become just a trailer park and a bar.”