Creating a fisheries communication platform to enhance observer safety

Saltwater Inc. & Chordata, LLC. and Alaska volunteer vessels in the trawl or fixed gear fisheries

Amount awarded: £59,575 (81,440 USD) 

Fisheries observers are independent specialists who are deployed on board commercial fisheries vessels as part of at-sea monitoring programs. Observers collect vital data that are essential for the sustainable management of fisheries, such as recording bycatch.  

But fishing vessels can be dangerous workplaces, and observers may find themselves in unsafe conditions with limited options for rescue or medical support. In July 2020, the MSC designated £100,000 of the Ocean Stewardship Fund towards improving global best practice to secure a safe working environment for fishery observers.  

This Innovation Fund grant will support Saltwater, which has provided at-sea observers for over 30 years, and Chordata, which has expertise in developing bespoke fisheries software, to create a ‘one-touch’ communications platform for observer safety. 

The project will use an existing two-way global communications and tracking device known as RockSTAR, which is rugged and waterproof, and uses satellites to send messages from anywhere on Earth with a clear sky view. The team will develop bespoke open-source software, to be used with RockSTAR, that will enable at-sea observers operating in difficult conditions to safely communicate with their home office.  

Observers will be able to check-in every 24 hours at the touch of a button, with a missed call triggering a series of alarms and an escalating response if the observer cannot be contacted. The system will also include an emergency SOS call to the home office and could be used to help report illegal fishing activity, which can affect observer safety.  

The software will be available on tablets and mobile phones, as well as the RockSTAR device, and should improve the timeliness and quality of observer data as well. The platform will be field tested in MSC certified fisheries such as Gulf of Alaska pollock and US West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl, to help validate the system. The researchers hope to have a scalable platform by the end of November 2022, which – if adopted widely – could help improve the safety of observers globally. 

A second Innovation Fund grant is supporting a global review of regional and national observer programmes, interviewing both industry and observer representatives. Coupling new research that considers the perspectives of observers, alongside technology improvements could contribute to safer working conditions.  

Enhancing observer safety and making it easier for them to collect data will result in improved data, which will directly benefit ocean science. We are delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to MSC’s work

Stacey Hansen Saltwater Inc.

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