Fishermen are the eyes and ears of a changing ocean ecosystem. Now, their observations can be added to Alaska’s science and data driven  resource management.

A new Skipper Science smartphone app lets fishermen collect and share what they are seeing in real-time.

The free 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 experience on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous fishermen alike, that that they’re using for decision making and risk evaluation and to execute a likelihood on the water. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years and years and years, especially here in the North Pacific.” Lauren Divine is Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s tribal government.

With the rapid, unpredictable changes occurring in the ocean, she says fishermen are a critical source of untapped  knowledge. Yet generations of experience don’t seem to carry much weight in management decisions.

“Tapping into that local level, the residents of a community that are always going to be there, they’re not external researchers, they’re not temporary field season crews, they are living in the environment where the changes are occurring, and they’re experiencing those changes.”

To broaden their reach, St. Paul has partnered with SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP) which for years has helped quantify informal observations. Program manager Lindsey Bloom-

And for a long time, we have been looking at how to improve the way that fishermen can communicate their observations and what’s happening on the fishing grounds with decision makers at all kinds of different levels.”          

SHIP’s outreach has shown that fishermen identify climate change as a top threat to their livelihoods and communities. Their at-sea experiences can fill data gaps that enhance planning and ways to adapt.

Real life observations will be collected into the fall and Bloom says those voices will be brought to decision makers.

“Because in Washington DC right now climate is a huge topic, whether it’s in the infrastructure package that’s moving through Congress, or basically embedded in everything else going on in government right now. And fishermen want to be at the table.”  

Drones, satellites and high-tech devices mean fishermen’s knowledge and experiences get lost in the process, says Lauren Divine, and they don’t have the clout like large companies to influence decision making.

The Skipper Science Partnership aims to shift that traditional paradigm.

“And this is a real actionable way to just gather the best science and the best data, alongside of the local and traditional knowledge that provides context for all of those kind of numbers and data and tells a story to make the case for making responsible and sustainable fishery management policies.”  

Find the free phone app at   

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