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[NOUMÉA] A mobile phone application that helps record small-scale fish catches was launched this month by the Cook Islands.

The launch adds this self-governing group of islands to the wider network of Pacific island countries that collect these data to manage fish resources.

Dubbed Tails and developed by the New Caledonia-based Pacific Community, the app allows fisheries officers to use mobile phones or tablets to collect data from small fishermen — on details including boat type, catch size and fish species — even when there is no Internet connection.
“Once connected, data are automatically synced,” says Bruno Deprez, the developer of Tails and a fisheries analyst at the scientific organisation Pacific Community.

“The limited information available suggests that fin fish and invertebrates in many areas of Fiji are overexploited.”

Robert Gillett

The advantage of Tails over similar apps is near real-time access to data, according to Philip James, fisheries economist at the Pacific Community. “This allows us to resolve problems with data collection at source quickly and efficiently, leading to higher quality data.”  

E-reporting saves time, especially in archipelagos like the Cook Islands where peripheral islands may be as far away as 1,500 kilometres from the main island of Rarotonga. Sending data over such distances on paper may take weeks.

A lack of information on fish stocks is still common in many Pacific Island countries, where people rely on fisheries for their livelihoods and for food security.

“The limited information available suggests that fin fish and invertebrates in many areas of Fiji — as with other reef fisheries in the Pacific — are overexploited,” says Robert Gillett, a Fijian fisheries expert.

First piloted in Tokelau in 2016, Tails is now used by six Pacific countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau and Vanuatu. So far, 150 officers have been trained to use the app and recognise the 563 species of fish available on the Tails database. These include marine species other than fish, such as molluscs, squids and crabs. Any species not included in the database can also be recorded.

But the surge in data collection on fisheries has yet to make a significant impact. “We remain in the early stages of this technology and as such cannot draw conclusions on fish stocks, currently,” James tells SciDev.Net. However, he believes that Tails will help “identify where further scientific work would be of most benefit or where a management intervention may be required”.

For now, the app meets a need for better integration between Pacific countries and the 14-member Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

With increasing pressure on fish stocks, Tails is also expected to be useful in meeting reporting obligations to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which was established to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stocks under the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.