Story from the International Joint Commission Newsletter
Scientists and fishery managers rely on catch data to adjust how fish populations are managed and ensure enough fish are growing into healthy adults to maintain their numbers. A new web and smartphone app aims to bolster official efforts to collect that information using crowd-sourced data collected by anglers.
Launched in May 2018, MyCatch is published by Angler’s Atlas, the producers of physical and digital fishing guides to Canadian and transboundary waters. The app is designed to collect valuable data about fish populations while also being useful to anglers. It covers the bulk of Canada, from coast to coast, as well as US waterways that connect to the transboundary region.
The app and website allow users to log their fishing trips, including what they caught, how many fish, what day they went fishing and how long they were out. The app works whether or not the phone is within range of a cellular tower by retaining data and sending it once a connection is made.
Convincing anglers to report their secret spots is a sensitive matter, and MyCatch makes an explicit promise that “secret spots stay secret.” Anglers can access their own data, but there are limits to use of the data by others.
“Scientists are able to use the angler data for their own research purposes; however they cannot release the point data to the public,” says Sean Simmons, founder of MyCatch.
“This helps protect the important relationship we are creating with anglers, as well as protecting local fisheries from over exploitation.”
Simmons added that the data types collected are consistent with those collected through official creel surveys, where managers talk with anglers or go out on the water to do their own catch reports.
This information is useful as agencies work to maintain and strengthen populations of native fish (as well as those brought in such as Pacific salmon). Creel surveys – and similarly the MyCatch data – are important to help scientists and managers learn about recreational pressures and fish populations on a lake or specific area. This in turn may be used for determining ideal places for habitat restoration or other work to make sure populations are healthy, as required under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
For anglers, the app provides access to personal fishing statistics, specific areas they fished and how successful they were. Simmons said developers are considering additional ways to make the app more useful for anglers, such as providing users with vegetation maps and information from buoys.
The app’s stats page, indicating fish caught per hour. Credit: Sean Simmons
Simmons has a background in limnology, and became interested in seeing how angler data could be useful to fishery managers after a 2017 workshop at the World Recreational Fisheries Conference. He needed to ensure that it would be in line with official creel surveys so the information could be validated, while also being appealing enough for anglers to participate.
There’s a concern about validating the MyCatch data because anglers have a reputation for exaggeration, Simmons said. But the results look promising so far, indicating that MyCatch’s reporting from anglers is similar to official surveys done in the Bow River in Alberta, in terms of catch rate distributions and species composition. A scientific paper detailing these results is in development.
Ensuring that citizen science data is in line with what’s expected from creel surveys has financial benefits to researchers. Simmons notes that a creel survey can cost CND$25,000 on the low end. While developing the app wasn’t cheap, the overall cost per water body sampled through MyCatch is about CND$200, he said. As a result, researchers can get data that should prove useful at a fraction of the cost and complement what’s being pulled from the official surveys.
Simmons said his team is reaching out to researchers to see where MyCatch data could prove useful. They are working with the University of Alberta on using the data to study whirling disease, and arranging agreements for other projects to study rockfish and herring species.
About 13,000 people have contributed data as of July 2019, with the largest number of users in the Great Lakes watershed, Simmons said. He chalked that up to that being the most heavily populated part of Canada, and to the Great Lakes and the myriad lakes and tributaries that feed into them. This is still a small number compared to the roughly 1 million unique visitors to the main Angler’s Atlas website over the same time period. Simmons said they’re still thinking of ways to motivate more people to contribute.