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New Zealand: Tech for Sustainable Fisheries Management

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The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) is harnessing digital technology to gather crucial information about recreational fishing practices, aiming to monitor the activities of an estimated 600,000 people annually. The innovative project, led by NIWA Fisheries Scientist Dr Jade Maggs, utilises a network of interviewers stationed at boat ramps along the northeastern coast of the North Island, specific regions of the west coast, and selected areas in the South Island.

Image credits: niwa.co.nz

These interviewers, often passionate fishers or members of local fishing clubs, play a profound role in engaging with returning fishing enthusiasts. Dr Maggs emphasised the voluntary nature of the interviews, assuring participants that the collected information was strictly confidential and not intended for law enforcement purposes. The primary goal is to amass scientific data, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of fishing practices without compromising individuals’ secret fishing spots.

The interviewers approach fishers to inquire about their catch, including details such as species, quantity, location, bait used, and the duration of their fishing excursion. NIWA Chief Scientist Richard O’Driscoll underscores the significance of knowing the extent of fish extraction from the ocean, highlighting that recreational catch, especially for species like snapper and blue cod, can rival or surpass commercial take in certain areas. These surveys, facilitated with the cooperation of recreational anglers, form a critical component of NIWA’s research on recreational fisheries for Fisheries in New Zealand.

Ian Tuck, Principal Scientist at Fisheries New Zealand, emphasised the importance of this research in providing insights into recreational fishing. The initiative, dating back to the early 1990s, complements other research methodologies, such as the National Panel Survey and area-specific surveys. These surveys contribute valuable data for stock assessments and inform fisheries management decisions, including catch and size limits.

In an evolution of their data collection efforts, NIWA is extending their focus to gather information on the catch-and-release practices of snappers in recreational fisheries. Building upon last year’s experiment that studied the survival rates of released snapper, the current initiative involves volunteer fishers equipped with measuring mats and information sheets during their fishing trips. These participants record details such as the size and number of snapper caught, the depth of the catch, and the hooking methods employed.

Image credits: niwa.co.nz

By leveraging digital technology and engaging the fishing community directly, NIWA aims to create a comprehensive dataset that not only aids in understanding current fishing practices but also contributes to the sustainable management of coastal fish stocks. The integration of volunteers and innovative data collection methods demonstrates a commitment to harnessing technology for effective and inclusive research, ensuring the responsible and informed management of New Zealand’s recreational fisheries.

In this era of rapid technological advancements, NIWA’s initiative exemplifies the convergence of traditional scientific methodologies with contemporary tools, ensuring that fisheries management remains adaptive and relevant. The integration of citizen science, where recreational anglers actively contribute to data collection, not only enhances the scope of research but also promotes a sense of shared responsibility among the community.

The digital transformation in fisheries research aligns with global efforts to embrace technology for sustainable resource management. NIWA’s approach sets a precedent for leveraging digital tools in citizen science, recognising that the collective wisdom and observations of recreational anglers are invaluable in shaping informed policies.

As the project unfolds, NIWA envisions expanding its digital toolkit, exploring the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to analyse vast datasets. These technologies hold the promise of uncovering patterns and trends that may elude traditional analytical methods, providing deeper insights into the complex dynamics of coastal fish stocks.

The success of NIWA’s digital approach to recreational fisheries research is not only measured in the quantity and quality of data collected but also in the positive impact on the fishing community. By actively involving fishers in the research process, NIWA fosters a sense of collaboration and shared stewardship, reinforcing the idea that sustainable fisheries management is a collective responsibility.

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