Tracking illegal fishing? There’s (finally) an app for that.
The maritime officers who patrol the most vulnerable parts of the ocean haven’t always operated with the most advanced technology, often relying on pen and paper.
August 5, 2020; By David Ingram
Hundreds of illegally caught sharks off the Galapagos Islands on July 23, 2011. John Bruno
Meaghan Brosnan remembers first boarding illegal fishing vessels off Alaska more than a decade ago as an active-duty officer in the Coast Guard, clad in a dry suit and armed with a pen and paper to record violations.
One day she ran out of the paper forms she used to fill out information about violations, “so the only option I had was writing numbers and master names on the back of my hand.” Later, she washed her hands — and looked down to realize that she had mistakenly erased her only records for three separate boardings.
The maritime officers who patrol the most vulnerable parts of the ocean, from the Galapagos Islands to the coasts of Africa, haven’t always operated with the most advanced technology. That’s set to change when some of them soon get an upgrade: a smartphone app, designed to be the first of its kind to be widely available and linked to a massive database of past fishing violations.
The app, named O-FISH, was built to be used by rangers who enforce fishing restrictions in dozens of protected marine areas, allowing them to search for and enter information about unlawful fishing even when they’re in remote spots not connected to the internet.
A lot of those records are still kept on paper, said Brosnan, who’s now the marine program director for WildAid, an environmental nonprofit in San Francisco that’s deploying the app with the help of MongoDB, a tech company that specializes in databases. She said the electronic records will be more efficient, as well as easier to keep track of.
“You’re not losing the record of a boarding when the wind blows it overboard,” she said.
For environmentalists, it’s a long-awaited turn toward digital record keeping, the equivalent of when police officers first got laptops in their patrol cars years ago to be able to look up information about suspected speeders. (O-FISH is an acronym for Officer Fishery Information Sharing Hub.)