By Laine Welch
Over 100 Alaska fishermen signed on for a Skipper Science program that lets them share what they know and see out on the water.
The pilot program started in June and uses a free phone app for logging real time observations.
“Basically, it worked and fishermen are very well equipped to be a big part of the science and the research going on so we can better understand and manage our fisheries,” said Lindsey Bloom, director of SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP) which partnered with the St. Paul Island tribal government to run the “citizen scientist” project.
The app is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Network started nearly 20 years ago at St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs to monitor wildlife and environmental conditions in the Bering Sea.
“There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experiences on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous fishermen alike, that they're using for decision making and risk evaluation. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years and years, especially here in the North Pacific,” said Lauren Divine, Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s tribal government at the launch of the Skipper Science program.
A results report showed that nearly 1,700 fishermen also shared their views on ways a changing climate is affecting Alaska’s waters and habitats. Sixty one percent said they are very or somewhat concerned about impacts to fisheries.
“There’s not a fisherman out on the water who has not experienced abruptly changing conditions as a result of a changing climate,” Bloom said. “We have consistently heard that in terms of what people are feeling are the threats to their businesses and bottom lines-- climate is in the top two or three.”
Nineteen diverse industry members, processors and fishing groups sponsored the science project and helped get the word out, and Bloom said it has support from fishery managers.
“Absolutely. We were strongly encouraged and supported by staff at NOAA and they are pretty enthusiastic about this, and hopefully at the state level as well,” she said.
Bloom is hopeful that fishermen might eventually get paid to collect and provide data.
“I think there are incredible efficiencies to be gained. When you have all these small boats out on the water day in and day out, why not use them to measure and report on what’s happening,” she said.
Divine added that local knowledge and experiences enhance the science provided by drones, satellites, ships and other high tech devices.
“Fishermen’s input gets lost in the process and they don’t have the clout like large companies to influence decision making,” she said. “This is a real actionable way to gather the best science, using local and traditional knowledge that provides context for all of those numbers and data and tells a story to make the case for responsible and sustainable fishery management policies.”
Find the Skipper Science report and sign on for next year at skipperscience.org.
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