In 2006, environmental non-profit The Nature Conservancy purchased 13 permits to trawl for groundfish off the coast of California.[1] The West Coast groundfish fishery, which includes more than 100 species, had just been declared a “federal economic disaster” with several species officially designated as overfished.

The Nature Conservancy wanted to manage the fishery in a way that was sensitive to at-risk species and habitats. At the time, vessels used paper logbooks to collect and report data in a process that had a lag time of several months. In order for data to effectively and efficiently inform management, this process needed to speed up significantly.

The solution was to develop an app called eCatch, which allows users to “capture, visualise and share logbook data” on any smartphone or tablet. The development of eCatch was facilitated by the emergence of mobile technology, cloud storage and accessible mapping interfaces on the internet. Vessels that used eCatch were required to share their data and in return could join a ‘risk pool’, where participants pooled together their quota of bycatch of overfished species.

Through the data provided in eCatch, fishers collaboratively mapped their fishing efforts and identified areas with greater risk of bycatch. As a result, fishers using eCatch caught 22.5% less overfished species than other groundfish trawlers. The collective of fishers was able to use this data to attain certification from Seafood Watch. In this way, eCatch demonstrates how “locally-owned data and explicit information sharing is an effective way to empower fishermen”.

Locally-owned data and explicit information sharing is an effective way to empower fishermen.”

The eCatch app is available in Aotearoa New Zealand and complies with Fisheries New Zealand reporting regulations.

Screengrab from the eCatch apps howing trip details for 'Boaty McBoatface'

Screengrab from the eCatch app.

References and footnotes

[1] Merrifield, M. et al. (2019) eCatch: Enabling collaborative fisheries management with technology, Ecological Informatics, 52, pp. 82–93.