Fish4all… A New Zealand Recreational Fishing Reporting App and More.
The trouble with an aspirational catchphrase like ‘Fish for All’ is just that: it’s aspirational … a deep desire for something that is not a current reality but that you wish was. The question is, are there enough fish for everyone: commercial, customary and recreational fishers? The stark reality is that there aren’t in some places; there aren’t for some species; and many stocks are in decline. So who gets what’s left, and who decides, and how? How do we, collectively, set about ensuring what we have is equitably shared, not wasted, and built into a sustainable legacy for future generations?
I recently attended a presentation from MPI to fishers called “The Future of Our Fisheries.” Essentially it was introducing the consultation document focusing on the current fisheries system review, the strategic proposals, the regulatory change proposals and the issues around those. I suspect I was the only recreational fisher there, but the tone of the meeting was concerning; it was obvious that the commercial sector participants present were in a belligerent mood and saw both MPI and other sectors as the enemy, threatening their livelihood and way of life.
It was frightening; many actually didn’t see anything wrong with fish dumping in order to land high-value catches.
On the other hand I was also thinking about the many instances of recreational fishers flouting the regulations, and poachers looking for a quick buck … there’s no moral high ground. Our fisheries are under pressure and under threat.
So what is this thing with a name like Fish4all, all about? I knew that if I made a phone call I would get yet another presentation … but I’d also be a whole lot better informed. I phoned Tony Craig, one of the individuals behind the release of the Fish4all App and managed to catch him waiting for a flight at Wellington Airport; he was happy to talk.
Fish4all isn’t actually new; it was initially launched in 2014 and it is primarily an App.
It’s a simple paperless fishing diary and is free to download and easy to use; anyone who can use a cell phone will be able to access and use Fish4all. Users can log and keep records of their catch, and compare them against others in their region and nationally. There is a photo album function and photos can be shared … and the data entered actually contributes to a greater good.
So what is this greater good?
Well, to understand that you need to know there are two parts to Fish4all. First there is the App, the technology that you interact with on your mobile device; and then there is the Charitable Trust behind the App. This Trust have ownership of the collective data and are representative of recreational fishers; they’ll represent us in discussions and negotiations when it comes to making decisions about the shared resource of our fisheries and their allocation among stakeholders.
Nominations for Trust Board members are sought from the recreational fishing community. It has become obvious to Tony and his partners, along with others who’ve sought a place in discussions over allocations within the shared fisheries, that you need to have two things in order to participate: some financial resources to actually get the right people with knowledge and information to the table, and robust data with which to arm those people.
MPI have gone to great lengths in SNA1 to measure and quantify accurate catch data from the recreational sector in order to be able to make equitable allocation decisions. The data appears to be quite accurate although there’s a feeling that it doesn’t come from widespread catch reporting by recreational fishers.
However, beyond that one fishery and perhaps the Marlborough blue cod fishery, recreational data is either scant or non-existent altogether. As Tony (who has a background in sustainability in management systems) says, “We can’t manage what we can’t measure.” And that is in essence why he got involved with the Fish4all App project. If the recreational fishing sector is to have a say in fisheries management it will need to have meaningful data. MPI has signalled a willingness to work with data collected from recreational catch records, and the more there is the more useful it becomes.
Tony is a realist, and he’s aware that ‘angler anxiety’ is the biggest challenge to something like Fish4all. The challenge is convincing Mr Recreational Fisher that data collected (and kept anonymous) is an opportunity, and not a threat.
Concerns for fishers appear to be:
that their information will be used against the recreational fishing sector; or
that it could be linked back to them; and
who will have ownership and use of it.
Tony wants to make it clear that the owners of the App technology don’t own the collected data; the Fish4all Charitable Trust do, and the Trust understand that anonymity is a key requirement if there’s to be meaningful input into decision making.
There’s an additional benefit that Tony points out: as with all Apps there is the ability for sponsorship and advertising, along with push notifications of discount offers on everyday fishing purchases for participating anglers; in essence, a revenue stream to support the Trust in its role in discussions and negotiations. Again, buy-in from users and the critical mass of those users will be essential for success.
I wrestled with the principles once I understood clearly what Fish4all was about, what it was providing and what the Trust hoped to achieve, and, to tell the truth I found myself suffering from ‘angler anxiety’!
But I’ve thought this through and I’m now inclined to agree with a number of key statements Tony has made: you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and data is a key requirement for meaningful decision-making in a shared fishery … we recreational fishers truly have an opportunity before us. I’ve gotten over my anxiety and I’ve decided to record my catch details meticulously, and see where this initiative takes us.
Using the App is easy and it’s fun; download it and have a look! I encourage you to set it up and contribute your catch data. Your small contribution may well help build a future with fish for all, where your children and grandchildren as recreational fishers have equitable access to our precious but increasingly fragile fisheries resources.
Check out the excellent Fish4all website, and especially the “About Fish4all” section.