New phone app helps Liberia’s canoe fishers fight illegal fishing
The Communities for Fisheries project today launched a smartphone application allowing small-scale fishers to gather evidence against industrial vessels fishing illegally in Liberian waters. The app provides a simple, user-friendly program that can help fishing communities rid their waters of the illegal vessels that threaten their livelihoods. Co-funded by the European Union, the Communities for Fisheries project is led by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in partnership with the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) of Liberia.
Eighty percent (80 %) of Liberians rely primarily on seafood for protein, and fishing communities rely solely on fishing for their livelihoods. Illegal fishing is considered one of the major threats not just to food security of the people in Liberia. It also threatens the very existence of fishing communities. Over the past years, the Liberian government has stepped up efforts to curtail illegal fishing, yet financial constraints have been a major impediment to monitoring and enforcement of laws, as a result, some trawlers have been evading the system.
With the smart phone application, small-scale fishers can become part of the solution.
Local fishers report a sharp decline in the quantity of fish over the last two years, with some varieties now completely absent from their catch. According to them, they can spend over 12 hours fishing and come home with less than a kilogram of fish for their families.
When a vessel is spotted illegally fishing, or damaging canoes or gear, the user simply opens the app – called Dase and based on the Collect software platform, takes a photo of the boat with its name or identification number showing, and records the location. The app does the rest by uploading the report to a central database, where the evidence can be used by the government to catch and sanction the perpetrators.
The app has been specially designed for small-scale fishers. The storage space needed on the phone is minimal, and, if the fishers are out of reach of internet connection, the evidence will be automatically uploaded as soon as connection is restored. The application allows for additional information, such as videos, to be added to the entry, yet all that is required in a first stage is a photo and location, which can be logged quickly and easily at sea. The project also distributed waterproof pouches to protect fishers’ phones to ensure that the phones are not damaged in the process.
“Now there is no way for the trawlers to lie because the app has made it simple to photograph and report them,” said Emmanuel Appleton, a fisherman in Robertsport, who has had training in using the app. “I really tell EJF thanks for installing the app on my phone to help me monitor and protect our territorial waters,” he adds.
As well as illegal fishing in the exclusion zone, the app can be used to help fishers who have had their canoes or gear harmed to claim damages from the perpetrators. This cheap, readily available and practical technology will empower fishing communities to take action to protect the environment and resources, which they depend on.