Our Experiences of Fisheries Citizen Science
An Explosion of Citzien Science
The past decade has seen an explosion in the number of devices capable of capturing a vast array of high quality data. These devices have enabled ordinary people to contribute to science by combining their collective data capture powers. The truely amazing thing is - citizens are taking up the offer.
With new data capture possibilities, there are also new challenges. Data is not a means to an end, for good science you need data collected to the right standards and the data needs to match the needs of the project.
That's why we are focused on doing the best fisheries citizen science we can.
If you have a problem like working out the distribution of a species or looking for rare or pest species you need to throw the net wide and keep the data simple. Crowdsourcing provides the perfect solution. Engaging a wide group of potential interested people to capture simple data maximises the opportunities to collect useful data. In this case, simplicity of data collection, easy access to the data collection tools and regular feedback are key.
If you have a problem that requires specific skills, like fish tagging then you are going to want to maintain greater control over your team. In our experience of tagging over 30 years, only a small percentage of participants will provide significant data in a larger volunteer group. For this reason, data and quality and flexibility of data collection are more important. Projects don't want to make life any harder than necessary for volunteers.
Citizens benefiting from Citizen Science
Citizen science is most often based on volunteer labour. This means in some way, the volunteer is invested in the outcome of the project or believes the work is worthwhile. This reality should always be treated with the greatest respect. Most researchers are very respectful and grateful that ordinary people help them to achieve their goals but there is almost always challenges in rewarding fishers for their labour through the project. If you aren't paying for their labour, it's a good idea to identify ways to use the data collected to help fishers with their understanding of the fish they catch.
Citizens using their own data
One of the biggest lessons of our long term involvement in tagging is that one of the key benefits for high end fishers is the discipline of collecting their own data. Many of them are already doing some form of diary but the additional discipline the comes with science makes their data collection better. Equally the ability of fishers to interpret data can be variable. Fishers love finding patterns, fishing is built on patterns. Patterns in data though are much harder to establish, unless you have technical skills. Citizen Science can deliver better tools for reporting on and understanding individual (and collective) data to fishers. This is one of the biggest win-win's on offer.
Citizen Science and Stewardship
There are a whole raft of fisheries challenges across the globe for which there is no simple solution for governments. Increasing the level of personal responsibility of end fishers and others that share the water resources is a vital tool in ensuring human resources are used where they are needed most. Citizen Science has a huge role to play in fostering stewardship. Fishers engaged in data collection are better able to understand the impact of their activities as they trust their own data. With fishers working together to collect data, it's a smaller step to engage them in mitigating any issues uncovered.