milton Haughton, executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries mechanism (CRFm), discusses the importance of accurate fisheries data, why this is so difficult to collect and the need for new models in collecting, validating and distributing the data. He also talks about the future role of mobile apps in filling this role.
Why data is so essential for Caribbean regional fisheries policy
Having good data and information regarding the status of the fish stocks and knowing exactly what is going on in the waters with respect to the fisheries and the marine ecosystem is vitally important. We need to make decisions on the basis of good evidence, that is, good data and information on what is going on in the fisheries. It is clear that for most commercially important species,
we do not have required data and information. There is very little room for further expansion of many of the wild captured fishes and so we need to better manage and conserve these resources to ensure long term sustainable use and to protect the livelihoods of the thousands of fishers and coastal communities, so we need better data in these cases.
There is a commitment to work towards improving the quality and the quantity of basic data and information regarding the species that are captured, the quantities that are captured, the number of fishers that are involved in the fisheries, their earnings, as well as to be able to track the trends in these resources. At the moment it is very expensive and difficult to get this type of data. It is not as easy as collecting data on land where, for example, you can easily go out and count livestock. Fisheries by its nature, is conducted in a very difficult environment. You need research vessels, and you need persons with specialized skills and expertise in fisheries and statistics. However, in the past the responsibility for providing data and information rested on government fisheries officers and that is a problem, because they do not have direct access to the information in most cases, while the fishers, fish processors and exporters are handling the product from harvesting all the way through to the marketing. If we are able to work more closely with these stakeholders, we could see significant improvement in both the quality and the quantity of data
and information that we have regarding the status and the trends in these resources.
Our problem is that many times we try to do stock assessments to make projections and to develop management and conservation measures but come up against this wall of not having adequate data. The credibility of the data is also very important, and stakeholders will have more confidence in the management measure when they know that they have been involved in providing the data, and they have confidence in the process by which the data is generated, analysed and the management recommendations put together.
Why Mobile applications might provide a solution to data capture
At the last ICT4Ag conference we heard a lot about a mobile application for fisherfolk called mFisheries. This software not only had many features that supported their role in fishing but it also helped fishers to record their own catches.
Although it’s not yet making an impact on the overall scheme of things, it has tremendous potential and there is interest in using it more widely in the region. The experimental work continues so we have not yet incorporated it into our formal process of stock assessment. We are very keen in supporting the use of mFisheries, and to get more fishers involved with it. This means not only using the application for providing information for their own personal immediate benefit in terms of finding their fishing sites and then linking up with the markets to sell their catches, but also to generate the type of scientific data and information that is needed by researcher and fisheries officials. They can then use this information in order to monitor the wider trends in the industry and conduct stock assessment analyses. So, we do have plans to scale up to national and regional level using ICT tools such as mFisheries and similar apps. ◀
Milton Haughton is Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM)