A decision making support system for small-scale fishers
“For the fishing community of Vedaranyam coast, Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, India, a mobile app is resolving issues relating to seafaring safety, low incomes, and timeliness in reaching fish shoals. The Fisher Friend Mobile Application has been introduced to the community using a participatory feedback approach to ensure the usefulness and accuracy of the technology for its intended beneficiaries.”
The fishing community is one of the most vulnerable groups, facing a number of challenges threatening their lives and livelihoods like unpredictable weather and ocean states, danger zones in the sea, lack of GPS information on the fish shoal, quality fish processing, value addition and storage, market trends and government schemes. In this context, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation conceived and developed Fisher Friend Mobile Application in 2007 and later upgraded it in the Android mobile platform. Now, it has been made available in the Google Play Store for wider reach and benefit. The Fisher Friend Mobile Application provides the following inputs to the fisherfolk.
- Potential Fishing Zone and TUNA species-specific forecast.
- GPS facility for navigating directly to the PFZ and traditional fishing route/zones.
- Ocean state forecast information such as wave height, wind speed and direction, sea current and sea surface temperature.
- Disaster alerts such as Cyclone, Tsunami and High Waves through the instant display of alerts .
- Mark danger zones in the sea such as a sunken boat, rock substrate, dead coral reefs.
- Market prices for various fish varieties.
- International Border Line (IBL) alert with Sri Lanka.
- SOS (Save our Soul) option for rescue when in the critical situation in sea.
- Navigating Harbour locations when they are in an emergency situation.
- Government schemes and Daily News.
- My Tracker (Tracking fishing route).
- Calling facility along with crucial contact details.
INCOIS provides its scientific information on ocean state forecast, potential fishing zone information, early warning etc. MSSRF Village Resource Centres simplify the scientific data along with government schemes related to fisheries, market rate and emergency contacts and upload the same in the website linking it to the database in the server. There has been a remarkable benefit to the fishermen who used this application, which was elicited from the periodical follow up and needs assessment carried out by the VRC and VKCs. To ensure a continuous flow of information through the application to the larger users, the PFZ and OSF information have been auto-ported from Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).
FFMA in the Vedaranyam region, Nagapattinam district
Nagapattinam was the most affected district of India in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, where over 7,000 lives were lost and approximately 40,000 houses destroyed (NCRC, 2005). Therefore, the genesis of FFMA stems from a post-tsunami rehabilitation context. A multi-level capacity building strategy is being rolled out by FEMA's implementation team to increase the visibility of the app, including village level meetings, one-to-one interactions, promoting fishers as FFMA ambassadors, announcements through public address systems and social media campaigns. More than 8,223 fishers have been trained in Nagapattinam on FFMA and its features; as a result, presently 5,593 fishers in Nagapattinam are using FFMA app for getting day-to-day fishing-related early warnings and other relevant information.
Benefits realized by the fishers
The top information services accessed by the fisherfolk are OSF, GPS, PFZ, Weather, Harbor, PFZ map, and government schemes. More than 80 percent of fisherfolk use PFZ information for informed decisions and fishing. The small craft fisher folk move beyond their traditional fishing ground due to PFZ advisory. Fisherfolk who received PFZ information through the FFMA application benefited both directly and indirectly. Direct benefits included increases in the catch as well as net income. Due to increased fish harvest, there has been a rise in the wages of the fishing crew as well. Some fishers have been using their profits to pay back bank loans taken out to purchase boat assets. The fishermen also pointed out that with the advisories, they are able to decide on how much diesel/ice to take on fishing trips.
The expenditure on fishing inputs, particularly diesel, has been considerably reduced as a result of using FFMA. A major gain is that by using the PFZ, GPS and ‘My Tracker’ facilities of the app, fishers are decreasing their diesel consumption and reaching their fishing destinations on time. The boat drivers expressed that reaching the location of fish shoals has become less complicated, and the reduction in diesel expenditure is, in itself, a major economic gain.
Voices from the fishing community about the usefulness of FFMA
Savindhiran is no longer lost at sea: I am Savindhiran, 23 years old from Arcottuthurai village in Vedaranyam. I am a traditional fisherman; initially, I used to be accompanied by my father and now I venture alone into the sea. Since trawler boats engage in fishing in our area, they cut off our nets resulting in the discontinuity in fishing for us. Hitherto, we would lose direction at mid-sea, due to forceful winds. With the introduction of OSF through FFMA application in our fishing experience, we navigate in safety and confidence in knowing the forecast. The PFZ information also helps us increase our fishing opportunities, efficiency, and gain huge fish-catchers with least expenditure of diesel and time owing to its accuracy and route navigation. On two separate occasions, based on a PFZ advisory we caught a huge catch of 200 kg of seerfishes and 500 kg of tuna sold at Rs 70000/-. This economic improvement helped us afford the purchase of new nets to improve our livelihood. Our ancestors would predict the weather based on intuition, the appearance of watercolor, and seasonal variations; now we are privileged to receive such accurate information as OSF through our mobile devices today.
Mahesh leverages technology for profit: I am Mahesh from Vellapallam fishing village in Vedaranyamtalukof Nagapattinam district. I have been receiving valuable information such as potential fishing zones, weather and ocean state forecasts from MSSRF. For example, the information on high wind speed guides us not to venture into the sea and we decide to stay home from fishing and work on the netting. On some occasions, we would verify the reliability of ocean state forecast predicting abnormal wind speed and wave height, by stepping onto the seashore for evidence. We have witnessed the accuracy of the prediction and have in a time-shifted our anchored boats and expensive nets to a safer location, thus protecting it from loss and damages. In this way, this decision-making support system of FFMA has helped us protect our assets worth lakhs of rupees.
Simultaneously, the information helped us increase our fishing opportunities, efficiency, and gain huge fish-catchers, on 3 occasions. On 13th March 2016 at 6 pm, I received a PFZ advisory which indicated GPS co-ordinates in Vedaranyamcoastal waters. I ventured into sea based on this advisory and gained a massive fish catch of seerfishes, carangids, and tuna at 15 paa gam. The catch fetched us Rs 20,000 over and above the usual sale price. Therefore, understandably, before we venture into the sea, we always refer FFMA to obtain PFZ, OSF, and weather forecast information to help take sound and viable decisions. The GPS training provided by MSSRF has been very helpful; based on the knowledge and skills gained through this training; I utilize my GPS and navigate efficiently and safely.
Mr. Murugan, Nagorepattinacherry: I am from NagorePattinacherry fishing village in Nagapattinam district. On 18 November 2016 at around 3 o’clock in the morning, myself and 3 others went fishing 35 km off the coast. Suddenly the engine cut out and we were stuck in the middle of the sea. We became anxious as there was nobody around and there were no landmarks close by to indicate to other fishers where we were. However, one of my fellow fishers told me about the FFMA GPS facility to pinpoint the boat’s location. Using the app, I was able to inform my friends of our location and they were able to come and rescue us.