The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) was established by Congress in 1976. The council is responsible for protecting our natural resources and ocean ecosystems by providing oversight, guidance, policies, and tools to these local economies. For decades, fishery management has relied on low-fidelity data collection methodologies to provide catch data . Scientific analyses utilizing these data sets resulted in low harvest levels that would potentially shut fisheries down.
This event caused distrust in the data collection methodologies and illuminated an urgency for self-reporting software to be developed for these fisheries. The Council turned to Sudokrew to look at the unique challenges in building a data collection app that is meant to be used on boats voyaging on the ocean while not connected to the internet, while providing near real-time reporting. In this article we share our experiences in addressing the unique needs of these fishing communities, and how our team employed bleeding-edge web technologies to provide transparency and trust.
For centuries the people of Hawaiʻi, American Samoa, Guam, and the Norther Mariana Islands have relied on the food supply available to them from the ocean. As fisheries expand and regional demand increases, the need for accurate stock assessments has become increasingly important.
The methodology for collecting and analyzing catch data in the Pacific region began in Hawaiʻi in the 1940s before spreading to the island territories. While analytical methodologies improved significantly over time, data collection technologies remained largely unchanged. Thereʻs a notable excerpt from the Western Pacific Fisheries management meeting minutes that provides a brief history of how data collection has been performed since the 1970’s:
The standard methodology for the small-boat fisheries relies on boat-based creel surveys. In these surveys data is collected through the following methods:
Expanded catch information from the surveys are validated with the Commercial Purchase Reporting System, where fish retailers submit logbooks on the type and amount of fish purchased from commercial fishers. A survey-based methodology runs the risk of human error, bottlenecks related to employment capacity and lacks fidelity due to the extrapolation required from the subsamples.
The Council summarizes the history and methodologies of data collection and analysis in the recent Pacific Island Fishery Monographs Publication. This publication outlines a 40+ year history of data collection in the Pacific, most notably how the analysis of this data has been reliant on the same low-fidelity methods over the entire period. The following quote stands out in the report:
-From the WestPac Council Management Monographs Report
For decades, there was no political will to change the system or create an alternative tool to collect the fishery information. . Despite the recommendations of numerous data workshops, data collection methodology went unchanged until fisheries is threatened with a shut down.
Monograph points out that decades of searching for the “holy grail” of data collection systems yielded mediocre results. Stock assessments were classifying bottomfish populations in Guam and American Samoa as overfished using the creel-survey data. Despite understanding the known vulnerabilities of relying on the survey-based methodology, there simply were not any other legitimate alternatives to collecting and analyzing this data reliably. These stock assessments would require fishery managers to close fisheries down.
“Much of the time, fishermen know as much if not much more than the biological scientists about the fish resource, their behavior, habitat and catchability. Failure to fully understand fisheries can compromise the quality of assessments, in both the protected species and stock assessment realms.” - Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council
It was realized that there was general mistrust in the data collection processes, and an understanding that fishermen needed to be more involved with the process to enable an equitable and reliable study, rather than singularly relying on a survey-based approach.
Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council turned to Sudokrew to work with them in building solutions that meet their unique challenges involving trust, as well as the technical challenges in building a cross-platform application that is meant to be used in the middle of the ocean.
Working closely with the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, our team was able to focus on key objectives to address when developing this applications suite:
Fishers, Vendors and Regional Administrators all have certain roles and responsibilities that need to be systemized in a programmatic way. The diagram below illustrates how data flows between applications:
All Vendors and Fishers using the application in each region receive their login credentials from a regional administrator, which necessitates the Admin portal to distribute credentials and approve or reject submitted reports. These reports can then be aggregated into dashboards to provide real-time feedback to all stakeholders with catch and market data.
The Catch It Log It application is the most important and challenging application of the suite; the requirements posed challenges that are uncommon for most web applications:
To address these challenges, Catch It Log It is purpose-built as a Progressive Web Application, which may be one of the first practical uses of the technology for the Pacific fishing region that we could identify.
A Progressive Web Application allows a web application to act closer to a native application:
The Catch It Log It application is designed for fishers to self-report their catch data. The data can be captured offline, and can also leverage the offline usage of GPS technology through a mobile browser. Progressive Web Applications work off of a single code-base, providing a rich mobile experience to iOS and Android without requiring approval of the application store or splitting the code-base. Once the Fisher is reconnected to the internet, they are able to submit their saved data to the Log It Report It Admin for approval.
Fishers have visibility into their self-reported metrics in the form of a personal dashboard that aggregates the catch data submitted.
The Vendor application is very similar to the Fisher’s Application. However, offline functionality is not a requirement for this application, as this app serves vendors that should have access to the internet. This application serves as a data-collection tool for vendor receipts, similar to the “box of receipts” that initiated these data collection efforts in the 1970s.
Like the Fisher application, Sell it Log It provides field entries to collect the data, as well as an individualized and market dashboard to provide Vendors with transparent visibility to aggregated pricing and volume of fish sold.
In addition to transparency of catch and sales data in personal dashboards, this data is vital to the overall community. Community Catch and Market dashboards are, thus, developed to compile and anonymize reports from within the region.
These dashboards provide same-day reported data to the community so that they may maintain their yields for a sustainable fish supply, as well as provide expectations as to where the fisheries are in relation to the catch limits over time.
The Market Dashboard provides near real-time market prices that provide constantly updating, relevant information to the fisheries.
Early feedback received in the design stage expressed how fishers often didnʻt know the scientific names of fish, and were often surveyed using the local vernacular of the species. In order to make the app easy to use, our team provided controls over each region for variables that affect how the application communicates with users.
Each Regional Administrator is able to control:
Our team has built custom data administration tools, however we’ve found we can accelerate delivery time and reduce costs by integrating tools such as Forrest Admin to manage the interface data. In this case, we decided to leverage the Forrest Admin app to avoid the engineering costs of building an interface to manage data regarding Species, Ports, and Tooltips. Each region has their own Data Admin to oversee this content, so it made sense to leverage this tool in this instance.
In providing editing of the common names of species at the regional level, each territory is able to have the species available to them in their common dialect while indexing the data to proper species for analysis. This ability to edit is also provided for tooltip fields and port names.
This application suite would not be possible without the development of Progressive Web Application technology. Supporting multiple operating systems, screen sizes, and offline capabilities on a limited budget would be impossible without it. Designing this application suite with a Progressive Web App allows for us to produce the app with a smaller team, and deploy changes without splitting the code base between operating systems. What was once engineered with two separate product teams for $500k+ budget can now be produced by one team for under $500k in engineering costs.
AWS ECS using EC2
AWS RDS for MySQL
Deployments with Jenkins & Terraform
Server maintenance with AWS SSM
In October 2020, the territories of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam have deployed the Catch It Log It suite for each respective region. At the time of publishing this article, we can see usage of the application in these communities.
Adoption of the application is still in its infancy, though early feedback from the fisheries has been positive in regards to ease-of-use and design. Weʻve also received exclusively positive feedback on being able to access the applicationʻs offline features from fishers. Data from fisher and vendor reports are also populating the Community dashboards, giving the community immediate insight into their region’s fishing activities:
It is our hope that this distributed self-reporting methodology provides increased transparency and trust in order to maintain fish inventories in the regions the applications serve, while supporting the local mandatory licensing and reporting regulations. In future blog posts, we plan on updating the progress of this application and share learnings from our work towards a sustainable future.
Please stay tuned into our Insights where we blog about our engineering practices and other insights in working with web technologies that enable sustainability.