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Happy Fish: Mobile fish catch tracking in the Solomon Islands

“For resource management programs and to support the fishing communities, we need accurate data on production, species, origin, how, when and by whom the fish are being caught.”

What are fishermen catching in the Solomon Islands? The government wants to know, to better manage the archipelago’s fisheries. Our Marine Consulting Initiatives (MCI) team recently linked up with the Solomon Islands government and the Coral Triangle Initiative to develop a new mobile app that will improve the ability for surveyors in fish markets to record what’s coming over the docks.

 

Solomons-HappyFish
A surveyor with the Ministry of Fisheries interviews a vendor at the Honiara fish market using a new mobile app Happy Fish, counting the number and type of species in the vendors bin or ‘esky’. Photo via USAID CTSP / Tory Read.

The aggregated data will help the government paint a better picture of fishing hauls in the Solomons.  A post on the Coral Triangle Initiative site explains more:

Good fisheries management requires good data.  The administrators at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Solomon Islands felt constrained in their work by the lack of information on the current use of inshore fisheries around the country.  Ben Buga, marketing director and chief fisheries officer at Ministry of Fisheries, summed it up: “For resource management programs and to support the fishing communities, we need accurate data on production, species, origin, how, when and by whom the fish are being caught.”  Leaders from the Ministry of Fisheries explained this need at a CTI Regional Business Forum in 2012, and USAID’s Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) stepped up to help the Ministry meet the challenge.

With CTSP support, the Ministry of Fisheries tasked Ben with making an information-gathering plan and hiring and training eight people to work as market surveyors. With CTSP support, Dr. Robert Pomeroy from the University of Connecticut Sea Grant Program and Dr. Kevin Rhodes, a professor of marine biology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, were brought in with the help of CTSP consortium members WWF and CI to develop surveys to close information gaps, supervise and train market surveyors and assist Buga in managing the program.  Training in how to administer surveys was conducted in the main market at Honiara, the capital of Guadalcanal Island.

 

 

The Happy Fish app interface.
The Happy Fish app interface.

Similar surveys have been done in many places, and the weakness of all of them has been the use of paper forms to record the interviews.  Paper can be damaged or lost, and the information from the forms must be transcribed manually to computers, creating the potential for mistakes and posing considerable challenges to timely use of data.  To clear this hurdle, CTSP worked with the NGO Ecotrust to develop a mobile application to enable surveyors to capture and input data on site.  The mobile app, called Happy Fish, will allow accurate recording and instantaneous wireless transmission of survey information to a database programmed to analyze the data and generate useful reports for managers, on demand.  This exciting program is setting an example for other Coral Triangle and Pacific countries to use technology to support local economies and food security for inshore fisheries.