Citizen scientists can now report — and potentially help stop — illegal fishing with the snap of a photo thanks to a new smartphone app developed by the Nature Conservancy.
Something like three-quarters of the world’s fishing grounds are being overfished–that is, fish are being taken out faster than they can be replenished by reproduction. And part of the problem is illegal fishing. It’s not so much that laws don’t exist to stop over-exploitation. It’s that fisheries ministers don’t enforce the rules.
The software, called ShipWatch, was developed this summer during a "Fishackathon," a series of workshops hosted by the U.S. State Department to foster technology development and collaboration among computer programmers.
ShipWatch allows users to upload photos of illegal fishing activities to a database, where they are labelled with date and location information and plotted on a central map. The developers hope the data will help provide the focus necessary to ensure authorities enforce existing fishing laws.
It’s probably over-optimistic to suggest smartphones can revive the world’s fish grounds. But they surely have the potential to stop the most egregious offenses, helping enforce laws that do exist. That’s a start at least.