Dr. Siti Akmar Ab Rahim (UNIMAS)
Let’s begin with the big picture. As much as we wanted a pristine ocean – clean and spotless, the traditional fishers on the other hand would prefer to have enough fish to catch to help put food on the table. These are two concepts of sustainability, if we are to be honest about it and both of the concepts are meaningful to the ocean and its people.
In the microscopic view of the ocean, the fishers depends on its produce, and would sell the fish to suppliers or distributors – to an extent of 60% lesser than what the market is paying it for in retail. To break that down, for every RM10 the fish is sold for, the fishers would only get RM4 out of the return. The fishers would also be spending for the cost of the operation including fuel, nets, and assistance for every trip, whether or not there is catch on that same day. Most of them would not even be equipped with a good sized freezer, and holding the fish any longer would instil fear in their minds, as the higher the risk for the fish to spoil and would further reduce the price of the fish or even lose the opportunity to sell the fish to anyone. They would spend almost 6 hours a trip, at times for 2 trips a day, and is desperate to catch more every day after.
This desperation could at times lead to unsustainable and destructive practise, which could damage not only the population of the fish, but also the marine eco-system. Fish bombing activities or bottom trawling with metal scraps both which are few of the causes of coral reef damaging. Otherwise, they would believe that the only solution today is to catch as many fish as possible, selling by bulk in lump-sum to reduce the wait and increase their return.
With the scale of traditional fishers within Malaysia – about 130,589 of them in counts, and not to forget the commercial boats, the number of fish caught and rates are mind-boggling. In order to ensure that there won’t be too high in daily catch rates of one targeted species, hereby what we would refer to as overfishing, we may need to consider that the amount fish caught monthly would not exceed the amount of fish that is reproduce and replenish the same period duration.
Taking marine wildlife from the sea faster than what it could reproduce would be one root cause to overfishing. Another case would be when longlines or trawling method of fishing which are intended to catch fish could also be catching by-catches, the incidental capture of non-targeted species such has turtles, dolphins and seabirds.
In order to monitor the balance between daily fish caught to daily fish replenishment, we need to start with a source of data somewhere. This is where capturing data of fish caught would help. If we could record the fish caught by traditional fishers, hypothetically we should be able to track and trace fish caught within coastal areas and also possibly use the same record to market to fish buyers, retails, restaurants, suppliers, and distributors to buy fish that has its catch details logged ensuring transparency of the fish. Selling sustainably caught fish might interest a new and possibly a higher-paying market. There are other opportunities to increase the value of the fish caught, such as the transparency of a report on how the fish caught by a fisher is being stored and distributed post-catch, enabling the buyers to have better confidence in the quality of a fisher’s catch stock.
The fishers could also have the opportunity to earn from the data that they sold. Lembaga Kemajuan Perikanan Malaysia for example is buying these data of caught fish for 10 cents per kilo of fish caught reported under their program called E-pengisytirahan for example. Without this information, ineffective management of small-scale fisheries could lead to the depletion of fish stocks (fish reserves in the sea), contributing to the decline of species either through bycatches or intentional targeting.
While larger vessels would have the capacity to equip themselves with Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), Automated Identification Systems (AIS), and Global Positioning System (GPS), this would be the opposite for small-scale fisheries especially from developing regions, as they could not produce information for us to monitor their activities and allow us to govern their contribution sustainably.
In DemiLaut’s Pilot Program, we aim to train the likes of you, to test on the ground with a representative from the fisher community to use an app that we produce, for the fishers to record digitally on the app instead of on paper, and have those data monitored on your app-side in case there are inconsistencies of data reported or help is required by the fishers to improve on their daily operations and reporting. We believe from this approach, not only would you be contributing to a disruptive change in terms of the sustainable practice of traditional fishing, but also in identifying changes that we could implement in the design of the process of engaging with fishers and the design of how the product should work better for the fishers and the helping community.
Jay Samit, Delloite Vice Chairman and Author.
There is a huge opportunity in crowdsourcing data. The World Bank had quoted that by using smartphones, we are now one collective citizen, which could help vendors and agencies to monitor the quality of water to a certain standard.
We have also been relying on reports of traffic and incidents on the road daily from the public citizen to help us make an informed decision in driving on the road with Waze.
In DemiLaut’s data sourcing framework, we aim to gather you as citizen scientists to help source data on fishers’ daily catches – in order to help the traditional fishers to be sustainable in their operations and aim to increase our understanding of the fish stock replenishment capacity.
DemiLaut have explored multiple business models to identify the right means to improve traditional fishers’ livelihoods. We identified that profiting from selling products or services to traditional fishers is not easy. Despite so, we have found a better way to help traditionally fisheries by increasing their income and to include a gig-economy operation to support the facilitation, distribution, and marketing of traditional fishers’ products. Creating job opportunities for volunteers to develop their skills and fill in, not only increases the efficiency of traditional industry but also increase fishers’ income and for the volunteers too. You will be creating a circular economy that could benefit traditional fisheries and yourself.
Accurate data report of fish caught in coastal areas is in demand as such data is poorly documented and at times neglected by management authorities due to challenges in data collection operations. The cost of getting ground officers daily to wait for fishers to return with catches, just to capture data is an expensive and demanding operation, and perhaps we could solve this need for an accurate baseline of fishes caught through the DemiLaut way, to crowdsource and provide digital ease and additional benefits to the recording of fish catches.
DemiLaut aims to innovate this programme in a later phase to improve the quality assurance of fishers catch using the tech app we have developed. Fish buyers do not have scientific means and process assurance to identify the quality of a fish caught, whether it is caught on the same day of sales, or the fish had been stored in well-cooled storage. However, we could make that difference by ensuring transparency in each of their supply chain paths. There are more possibilities that we could offer and explore here, such as identifying the nature of fish locations across the seasons or measuring the commercial trends of species and their catch population from a certain site. We are also aiming to convert fishers to earn as citizen scientists by helping us to monitor the impact of climate change on the ocean.
Are you up to exploring further with us? We’re always open to gathering interested participants who would want to develop their skills within these fields, either voluntarily, through internships, or by hiring. Let us learn more about your quality from your contributions to the fishers in this program.