Hacking to Solve the World’s Fishery Problems

This weekend for Earth Day, teams of computer programmers and technologists will meet at 43 host sites in 27 countries on 6 continents. They’re volunteering their time and creative juices for a worthy purpose - to hack away to find usable solutions to a series of problems submitted by fisheries experts around the world.

Sometimes the best conservation solutions come from out-of-the-box thinking and simple technologies.

Fishackathon 2016 is the third annual event established to bring the best and brightest together to address the serious issue of overfishing. By coming up with innovative ways and apps to collect, analyze and present data, the “hackers” will compete to offer practical solutions to 9 problem statements ranging from fish identification, fishing laws, lost fishing gear and seafood information fraud and mislabeling.

While we tend to look at large-scale commercial fishing fleets to implement solutions, about half of fishing happens by small-scale rural fishers, many in developing countries. Previous Fishackathon winners have come up with real-world technologies that rural fishers can use that to make a big impact to restore sustainable fisheries, which also boosts their livelihood.

The Fishackathon event is hosted by the U.S. Department of State as a public-private partnership that calls on coders to create new apps and tools for mobile phones and other devices to help fishers be more sustainable.

Full versions of the #codeforfish problem statements will be revealed at the Fishackathon kickoff events on April 22.  We can’t wait to see what the coders come up with solutions! An expert panel of judges will award prizes at each Fishackathon site and worldwide grand prizes.

Overfishing  is a serious threat which contributes to fishery depletions, species extinction and ecosystem devastation in the ocean. It also threatens our supply of protein-rich food, life-saving medicine and a key economic sector of many coastal nations.

One of the challenges to dealing with overfishing is getting real data - knowing how many fish are being taken and how many are in the ocean. A recent paper published in January asserts that tens of millions more tons of fish have been taken from the seas than the official statistics tell us.

In the paper in Nature Communications1 by fisheries researchers, Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver explains that many official statistics do not account for a huge amount of fish catches by small-scale and subsistence fisheries or fish thrown back as ‘discards’ — species other than those being selectively fished.

According to Pauly and Zeller, global fisheries catches hit a peak of 130 million tons a year in 1996. That’s a substantially higher figure than the data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which reported 86 million tons at the peak with only slight declines.

Pauly’s work has sparked debate whether data from catches can help us determine the state of fish populations remaining in the ocean. But on either side of the question, experts agree that more data is needed and international efforts are paramount in monitoring and regulating fishing practices in the world’s oceans to prevent further overfishing.

We consumers can also take advantage of technology for Earth Day to do our part to reduce overfishing and create demand for sustainable seafood.

View  our list of some of the best tools and apps for finding sustainable seafood and learning more about the seafood you eat.

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