What has your data done for you lately? Reflections from SAFET Session 2

We are clearly living in the “digital age”. Everything we do, from our banking to our shopping as well as our workplace productivity, is either dependent on or enabled by digital technologies. Technologies like sensors, IoT, wireless communications and big data tools are all driving this evolution and as a result we have more powerful and diverse technologies at our fingertips today than at any point in history, and a confluence of information streams leading to oceans of data resources just waiting for analytical nets to be cast into them. We now have unprecedented potential to understand and influence the world around us.

While this evolution has reached the far corners of the globe, it has left fisheries in the shadows—fishers and management agencies continue to use a disjointed system of paper records, manual data entry, disconnected information silos, and archaic data analysis tools and methodologies, resulting in effectively inaccessible and unusable data. In a world where everyone—even fishers—carries a supercomputer in their pocket, it’s time for fisheries to move beyond paper and develop truly integrated strategies for managing fisheries information.

Achieving this objective was the subject of the most recent session of the Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies conference series: "What Has Your Data Done For You Lately?: Getting The Most From Integrated Fisheries Technologies In A Changing World." An all-star line-up of speakers included Dr Sara Maxwell of University of Washington, Dr Transform Aqorau of iTuna Intel and Pacific Catalyst, Dr Elliot Hazen of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Dr George Maynard of Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and Dr Steve Martell of SeaState, Inc., presented on some of the most progressive efforts toward integrating fisheries technologies from around the world. Below are some of the highlights and themes from this recent session, including from the plenary and breakout sessions, which all emphasized how far we have come, but also how much further we need to go!

State of the Technology

Data systems have achieved a remarkable level of technical sophistication in data capture, storage, and analysis that is making data integration possible even in some of the most remote corners of the planet. For example, Dr Aqorau described an initiative to establish a fully automated “smart port” in Noro, Solomon Islands, where data systems from the vessel all the way through the processor will be fully integrated into a first of its kind facility for the Pacific tuna fisheries. Initiatives such as this demonstrate that technologies, especially data analysis tools and systems, are mature enough now to meet many of the objectives of securing fully integrated fisheries technology systems that make the most of available data.

But it is not enough to just collect data. We must consider the “back end” of the data stream—how that data gets used—from the outset when designing truly integrated systems that result in actionable knowledge. Interestingly, challenges expressed during all the discussion seemed more often than not to relate to cultural, procedural, and institutional challenges rather than technical ones.

Fostering Engagement and Participation

A tool is only as good as the willingness of people to accept and use that tool. In some contexts, fishers are willing to collect and share a wide array of information. In others, they seem reticent. Reasons for these positions range across issues such as lack of a clear benefit from collecting and sharing data, lack of assurances surrounding privacy, costs, concerns data won’t be used at all or will be used in ways that negatively impact their earnings, or the time and difficulty involved in actually collecting the data. Improving engagement and participation in the implementation of more integrated data systems will boil down to effectively addressing trust and incentives. One speaker noted that often the systems are designed for compliance purposes without considering the full scope of potential applications across multiple agency systems that could derive real value from the information, such as for economic analysis that would benefit the fishing fleet and managers and seafood markets, which are playing an increasingly influential role in driving the uptake of integrated digital data systems.

There will be increasingly more constraints on the fishing industry due to a more crowded ocean, including restrictions on whale interactions, expansion of Marine Protected Areas, establishment of wind/wave energy farms, aquaculture. Fisher-collected data included in a fully integrated system could help fully inform decision-making processes to ensure productive fishing grounds are maintained and competing uses are better managed, thereby creating a valuable incentive for fishers to engage in more and better data collection and sharing.

Data Sharing and Ownership

Participants identified the biggest challenges to increasing data integration and use as the lack of interoperability between data systems, inconsistency in methods and metadata for data capture and storage, a lack of faith in the veracity and validity of data, and the layers of bureaucracy often required to gain access. A lack of trust between data stakeholders is further exacerbated by data ownership and storage rules that often seem draconian or obtuse between one or more of the responsible parties. In some cases, legal or regulatory requirements lead to the confounding result of preventing fishers from being able to access data they collect on their own vessel!

Participants discussed a range of models for data ownership and management, including contractual arrangements among private parties in a cooperative structure and traditional top down management as part of government programs. One clear theme came through that, regardless of the context, very clear agreements need to be in place to ensure that data is used or shared consistent with an agreed set of standards and objectives that are well understood by all parties.

In the end, technology has a key role to play in data verification and validation, acknowledging that data quality for fisher-collected data can be a concern. Participants highlighted how new tools like Electronic Monitoring (EM) can help validate fisher-collected data and provide a feedback mechanism to crew collecting that data. However, that information is not useful if it is not provided in a format that is standardized, interoperable, and, ultimately, sharable. There are some efforts underway to improve data interoperability, including the FLUX TL Protocol in the EU and regional efforts toward data standardization, but more needs to be done to ensure the utility of data is maximized.

THANK YOU to all our speakers, and all of those who attended. The full plenary and speaker presentations can be found here.

Don't miss the next session! December 17th 6:00-8:00am PST (GMT -8)

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