e-Pacific: the array of Apps for fisheries data acquisition we use in the WCPO / by Francisco Blaha

For a part of the world that has had a lot of difficulties regarding connectivity due to its remoteness, low critical mass concerning population, expensive services and not a lot of money in the population. The Pacific has been a remarkable early adopter of mobile technologies and the development of Apps exclusively dedicated to fisheries data collection for science, management and increasingly, compliance purposes.

 Happy to work with all of them, the guys catching fish and the ones catching data

Happy to work with all of them, the guys catching fish and the ones catching data

In the Apps developments and fisheries related data fields management there are 3 players in the Pacific: FIMS, SPC and FFA. As an independent contractor to all of them, I see my self as a very lucky man working (and more important having friends) with each group. In fact, the one above is a screenshot of my tablet with all the Apps presently being used in the region.

The 1st guys off the block were the iFIMS crew. When I meet Mark (a boss there) for first time many 6-7 years ago at a meeting where I was presenting on the need of data (“catch once use always” was the title) and he was introducing FIMS. The connection was immediately we both were thinking in very similar ways, yet coming from very different backgrounds. 

The FIMS project started as a PNG commissioned fisheries data management than the later was taken by PNA. The FIMS “constellation” is a product of Quick Access Computing and remains a privately own product and services provider. 

I liked that Mark and its crew were not “fisheries people” hence their thinking was fresh and original, I been collaborating with them since that first meeting and we have most of the tools needed for a full CDS system. Besides that Mark became a friend (a rare commodity in the consulting world), we stayed at each other houses, and we know each other families… which in my worldview means way more than having just business together only.

And while FIMS is an integrated database / universe that does a lot things, from assets management to the administration of the VDS, here I just gonna focus on the present Apps that integrate with their online platform and web interface.

At present they have 2 “products” that are used very extensively:

eForms, is an electronic logsheet application for PS and LL vessels, which is used by fishers, and data sent to the server either by the vessels internet or via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device. The App provides industry with a platform to manage and eLodge data near real time, hence Catch Reporting and other functions available for any country, its operation in all Purse Seine Vessels currently registered in PNA water and quite a few longliners in some of the countries

eObs, that is an Electronic observer data application for PS vessels and is used by observers, the data is uploaded to national and regional databases at SPC via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device (which provides additional observer safety measures). 

The Iridium based communication these Apps use, is enabled via the use two-way, satellite communicator devices are about the size and weight of a smartphone, which have bandwidth limited yet effective data transmission, and using that guaranteed independence and reliability 

The data sent has GPS marking included beyond the fact that overlaps with the VMS, so we know where the data was loaded and sent, and the systems have all sort of alarms and notifications included (EEZ and port entry/exit for example).

These two tools provide the regulators at port with the opportunity to assess a lot of info (volumes per species, effort per day, zones fished, observer notes, etc.) before the vessels arriving in port, allowing then the Port state to decide the level of inspection needed. Furthermore, both Apps become the basis of not only PSM but also the CDS.

There are other Apps on the pipeline such as Factory eForms, landing/transhipment monitoring forms as well as online modules (eCDS and port) just to name a few (but can say too much yet)

Their database connects to TUFMAN2 the SPC regional database (see below for more info) assuring data interoperability and future potential interaction with whatever the EU comes up with for the promised upgrade of their the catch certification scheme. As well the International Trade Data System (ITDS), the U.S. government’s single-window data portal for all import and export reporting.

Obviously being the 1rst of the block they set the pace, but most importantly, being private company instead of an institution allows them to be product and results focused, without haven to depend on bureaucracy and budgeting authorization to get the results. On the other hand being a private company has issues concerning the ownership and controls of the information. (Another example of my favourite fisheries mantra “everything has advantages and disadvantages.”)

In any case, what they have done so far is beyond admirable, and I have not seen anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the world.

The other crew that has been long in the database game yet a bit newer in the App game is the data management section in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community) based out of Noumea in New Caledonia.

Their main focus for many years now has been data acquisition and management from a science perspective (they had a small compliance sector too) and the evolution from their TUFMAN (Tuna Fisheries Database Management System) to TUFMAN2 to the expansion to TUFMAN “family” has been fantastic, gaining strengths and flexibility over the time.

It deals with Logsheet, Unloadings, Port sampling, Artisanal fisheries and other bits and pieces, is a data, receiving and checking tool. Is a Web-based hosted at SPC. Private, secure and powerful (you still own your data), Connected to OFP with centralised credentials platform. Low bandwidth requirement (if you can send an email, you can use TUFMAN2). And as they have been spearheading issues around video on board (aka e-monitoring)  then e-reporting capabilities was a logic consequence. 

And they have come up with two very cool Apps:
OnBoard, which is an Electronic logsheet application for collecting Catch and Effort Data and is to be used by fishers on longliners . It has a dynamic user interface and data validation capabilities (range checks and the lot). It does upload directly to TUFMAN2 and to DORADO, which is a data reporting module.

Tails, which is a Fisheries monitoring application for collecting: Commercial LongLining Port Sampling Data and Artisanal Fisheries Data and is used to be used by national fisheries staff (officers, unloading monitors, port samplers, etc)

And as On Board It does upload directly to TUFMAN2 and to DORADO for reporting.

Both are operational, and they have an observer App on the pipeline as well.

Their data streams while oriented for fisheries science cover most of what you need for anything in fisheries, and with a bit of tweaking via an external module that integrates with TUFMAN2 (and becomes part of the TUFMAN family) it could easily run a CDS. 

Over the years I have dealt with various aspects of their work and had very good rapport with many in the data team, such as Malo, Bruno and Andrew, while they are much younger than me, thankfully the relationship goes beyond work, as they are really cool and clever people.

FFA (Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency) is the most recent App provider, has been as well in the database and information management game for a while since the regional tools such as the VMS, the vessels compliance index, the vessels in good standing list just to name few, rely on data management capabilities. 

Their RIMF (Regional Information Management Facility) App integrates with the countries IMS portal, and offers the Boarding Officer’s Job Aid Kit (BOJAK), with access to Vessel Monitoring, Reference List, License List, Transshipment Monitoring Checklist and Departure Clearance.

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The App provides a visual indication of many of the parameters colour coded icons (as you can see below) which facilitate the user interaction.

The users of the App are the fisheries officers in the FFA member countries that choose to use it and are testing them as we speak

Luckily again, I go beyond just work with  Ano and Kenneth the key data guys at FFA.

All these Apps from my perspective is fantastic, since data is the basis of a CDS.

The issue with CDS is that brings in one compliance (PSM, VMS, VCI, etc) and volumes (per species and areas of capture), but the 1st is the realm of FFA and the 2nd of SPC, even if there is complementarity in many of data fields that are collected by both.

In many cases, the compliance elements and in particular issues around “fish laundering” are just the need of “time” and “key traceable elements” markers in the data streams entering TUFMAN2 and added to that is an extension of the “mass balance capabilities” already existing there 

SPC and FFA work collaboratively in many areas and they will keep doing so, yet SPC has much bigger data team and more acquainted to the volumes calculations that FFA.

In my ideal world, there should be an FFA compliance module working integrated to the SPC TUFMAN2 “Family” that nourishes itself of the necessary fields out of TUFMAN and integrates the necessary elements outs of the present FFA capabilities (while protecting some of the sensitive bits) 

Of course, such an action needs to be supported by all members and be part of the mandate of both organisations.

Surely the question at this stage is why we are in some way duplicating efforts… as said there are issues around the ownership of data, as well as that the capabilities and interest of the mostly Purseiners countries are different to the mostly longliners ones.

For me, is up to each country to pick and choose what works for them, all the systems at this stage “talk” to each other and can do so further, the result is what matter most, not the method 

There is only an limited amount of data fields that can be extracted from fisheries operations that are aimed at all possible uses in fisheries management, science and compliance. How we deal with the ownership and extraction of that data can always be arranged. The results are vital for having as a sustainable and legal fishery.

All this is admittedly ambitious, but the reality is that getting to this point was already a long road, so what is left, in comparison is so much less… The aim would be to have almost real time access to what and how the fishery is doing and what anyone in the fishery is doing at any moment in time. The whole set of data capabilities we have in the region is a full credit to the developers and to some very forwards thinking leadership in the countries and the institutions, and my full respect to all of them for that. I wish fish were like data… capture it once and use it for ever.