Hunting for a new frontier: a data-driven future

Hunting for a new frontier: a data-driven future

By Alison Shields (EDF), Katherine Brugger (The Ocean Conservancy), and Chris McGuire (The Nature Conservancy)

From smart watches that track our steps to news alerts on our phones to live traffic updates as we drive, data has become central to our daily lives and how we interact with the world. For fishermen who travel miles offshore in search of fish, access to timely, accurate data is essential to their businesses, livelihoods and communities. And now, from coast to coast, from commercial fishermen to weekend anglers, the fishing community is united by a common interest: updating fishery data.

What is Fisheries Data Update? Simply put, this means strategically modernizing how fisheries data is collected and used. Timely, reliable, accurate data are essential to effectively manage fisheries at sustainable levels and ensure coastal communities thrive, but many of our fisheries data systems are stuck in the past.

For decades, fisheries management, and subsequently fishing companies, have been plagued by outdated software, siled databases, and often outdated data collection software. But recently, hunters’ voices have been getting louder demanding federal guidance and more data collection programs that operate using modern data systems. In the face of challenges such as rapidly changing ocean conditions and changing fish stocks, there is a need for modern data systems that will help fisheries managers and stock assessment scientists be more effective in addressing climate change.

Reliable, real-time data is a key component of sustainable fisheriesIn our nation’s waters and blue economy. New technologies are readily available to collect this data. Now is the time!” – Capt. Scott Hickman, Galveston, Texas

Anglers from across the country are asking NOAA Fisheries to develop a national strategic plan to update the data, and they recently reiterated their request in letters to the administration and in meetings with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. This National Strategic Plan will provide guidance for improving data infrastructure and expanding the use of electronic technologies so that fisheries scientists and managers can provide consistency and clarity to fishers working in a changing ocean.

Each of our organizations – The Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund – has worked with fishers across the country to develop and implement regional e-technology programs, and we support the fishing industry’s interest in a national data modernization strategic plan. Below we highlight five key lessons learned from various regional programs and provide key insights that NOAA Fisheries should consider when developing the National Strategic Plan.


With so many different research programs, surveys, and data sources across U.S. fisheries, consistent guidelines and practices, as well as clear data standards, are needed. These standards will serve as minimum considerations that will enhance program consistency and simplify the process of developing new programs. To help ensure that data from different sources can be successfully integrated and used appropriately in management, it must also be validated and calibrated.


As fish move in response to rising water temperatures, more accurate and timely data will need to be shared within and between fisheries and regions. This increases the need for the agency to improve its siled internal systems and create a central database that integrates these different data streams. The modern data management system will provide scientists and fisheries managers with easy and timely access to information. It can also reduce the effort and time lag from the point of collection to use in scientific evaluations and management decisions.


There must be better coordination and partnership between fisheries managers and scientists at all levels of management – ​​from the federal system, through interstate commissions, to individual states and even with external partners and research institutions. A more coordinated approach could reduce reporting burdens, allow a more complete view of a fishery or area, and better meet the needs of fishers. Data collection programs, including those managed by NOAA’s Fisheries Service, states, and agencies, must work closely to improve coordination and provide better data to managers.


Fishing groups are calling for these improvements because they know they can help improve fisheries management. They want to be partners in developing a system that better meets their needs and the needs of fishery managers. Concerted efforts must be made to engage fishermen and gain their trust and support. Increasing transparency is a crucial first step. Changes, improvements and challenges faced by scientists and managers should be clearly communicated. NOAA Fisheries and others responsible for managing data collection programs must improve their engagement with the fishing community to promote the use of electronic technologies.


Given the need for more data and timely access, data collection, management and operation systems should be designed in ways that facilitate innovation. Fisheries managers should consider how electronically reported data and accessible, integrated data systems can add to the overall picture of fisheries and address persistent challenges. For example, cell phone applications could allow recreational fishermen to report their catches, and this data could be used to track shifts in fish distribution due to climate change, report rare species, and collect and potentially validate information on behavior such as catch rates. Catch rates.

We hope these insights will help NOAA Fisheries develop a national strategic plan to update data. Reliable and timely data are the foundation of effective fisheries management that benefits people and planet. The national priority and strategic plan to modernize technology, policies, systems, and effective use of data will help sustain America’s communities and ensure healthy, abundant fish populations for the future.

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