||New Zealand: Protecting Natural Resources Through Citizen Outreach
||Monday, December 17, 2012
||Dec 17, 2012
New Zealand’s Ministry of Fisheries is the first government agency to use text messaging and smart phone apps to interact with, engage, and inform recreational fishers. Channa Jayasinha, its former CIO, talks to FutureGov about offering marine information in real-time and the benefits accrued since the launch of the service.
“We say that there are 4 million guardians (the New Zealand population) of our fisheries,” remarks Jayasinha—a testament to the primacy of the country’s natural resources within its economic sphere.
In order to protect and properly manage these resources, in March/April of 2011, the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) initiated “Project IKA”, with two primary aims: to further enhance protection and sustainability of the natural resources of the ocean; and to lower Ministry costs through removing traditional (and expensive) printed marketing collateral and lessening the number and cost of criminal prosecutions for failure to comply with fishing legislation.
As an aspect of this initiative, MFish is reaching out to citizens through a smart-phone service to streamline recreational fishing along the coastline.
This G2C initiative offers access to marine information in real-time, while helping communities appreciate environmental protection laws and fishing requirements, according to Jayasinha.
Since going live in August 2011, the ministry has logged more than 3,000 texts from 1,700 fishers, which has helped monitor fishing activity, protect natural resources, and reduce infringements. These smart-phone apps include data downloads, YouTube and other interactive video presentations and feeds.
Jayasinha says smart-phone apps help engage citizens in an interactive environment. “The Ministry’s mobile channels and social media are complemented by a network of regional offices, road shows and open days–bringing together all age groups.”
“We are using mobile channels as another avenue to engage with recreational fishers,” Jayasinha says.
He reports a “positive uptake” of fishing intelligence since the launch of the smart-phone service, including the download of YouTube videos and other news feeds.
Previously, the ministry used printed brochures and other marketing collateral. Not many fishers could readily access this literature, including news about closures and requirements within different zones.
Quantifying the catch size
The smart-phone apps provide updates about minimum legal catch size, the number of fish that can be caught per day and rules across different zones.
End-users can, for example, locate recreational fish species that are common in their area. They can also download images, displays and demonstrations showing minimum legal size, maximum daily limits and area bag limits. Short videos and screen shots demonstrate how to release an undersized fish, correctly measure a fish, or identify species more accurately.
One added benefit of the smart-phone service is a reduction in the number and cost of criminal prosecutions for non-compliance with fishing legislation.
Smart-phones versus traditional media
The ministry’s smart-phone service will help engage citizens in environmentally-sound practices, while making ocean resources more sustainable and protecting endangered species.
In the past, MFish relied on printed brochures, web site downloads of literature, or public signs at recreational spots to inform communities.
Traditional channels restricted access to up-to-the-minute information, while “disengaging” communities from the ministry’s goals and the core message of environmental sustainability.
Smart-phone information access means the Ministry can cut back on traditional printing costs, including marketing collateral, brochures, written notification and other literature.
“The only two-way feedback currently available is for Recreational fishers to submit feedback on the app itself at the android or i-phone app store,” says Jayasinha. “This is in the form of a rating of the app and any comments they want to leave. In the future we could establish an e-mail address where recreational fishers could leave feedback for us.”
Out at sea
Mobile phones and especially texting offer an ideal channel to engage fishers, while protecting available stock, and more readily connecting citizens with government.
The Ministry’s citizen engagement effort helps protect marine life that is unique to New Zealand’s oceans, waterways, reefs and coral habitat.
New Zealand’s west coast, mostly off the South Island, provides around 30 per cent of the country’s fish catch. Much of this occurs when fish gather there to spawn in winter and spring. More than 15,000 marine species have been identified across seas surrounding New Zealand – with another 50,000 new species to be charted.
Before rolling out its smart-phone program, the ministry faced problems engaging citizens nationally in its information outreach effort. Part of the problem was that not many citizens could readily source official information about limits to catch size, as well as changing rules and regulation at different locations.
“This caused fishermen to risk being caught through not being properly informed,” says a ministry report.
“Often those caught admitted that they never checked the information for the particular species, and considered it too difficult, especially when out at sea.”
Until recently, not many fishers could access the internet, or readily download the ministry’s marketing collateral, including brochures and other web information.
Access to accurate and timely information in the fishing sector was a concern for many years. “Rules regarding fish size and catch limits are regularly changed to protect the fish stock,” explains Jayasinha.
Ease of access to data
Smart-phones and their apps enable fishers to access information such as minimum fish size, while reducing the time spent guessing if a catch is legal, or meets fishing criteria.
New Zealand is divided into six fishing regions and features a unique marine environment. These dispersed fishing regions often caused confusion for fishers. They may have started out in one region, only to end up in a cross region with different rules.
“User benefits are that fishers can access the correct information for the area they are fishing in: in real-time and more easily than before,” says Jayasinha.
This real-time data access offers a “seamless recreational fishing experience” while reducing associated risks and the hazards of over-fishing, according to Jayasinha.
GPS technology complements the smart-phone programme and offers a snapshot of fishers’ locations and activity.
As fishers have become better-informed, the Ministry has reported a decline in formal warnings by enforcement staff. More recently, criminal prosecutions have gone down.
Expanding the knowledge base
Under future plans, the ministry will expand its database about new fish species. Officials are also seeking a better picture of positions inside fishing exclusion zones.
Extra radio frequency is also being provided to communities, tackling bottlenecks in downloads or other news feeds.
The ministry’s smart-phone technology has potential for other government services, including bio-security alerts at airports, notifications for food manufacturers, and updates on emissions trading.
Tracking information use
The ministry is monitoring its key performance indicators (KPIs) from the smart-phone initiative through statistics collated by an internet service provider (ISP).
All ‘contacts’ are automatically recorded on the ISP server. A tracking system shows the number of fishers using text messaging to clarify rules and regulations, including the number of all those who ‘opt in’ to one of six geographical area databases for alerts.
The number of downloads on smart-phones is also recorded to track end-user traffic.
These KPIs will help the ministry refine its citizen engagement effort, while sharing insights with other agencies considering similar arrangements.
Market penetration for mobile communications
The ministry’s initiative builds on the surge in the uptake of mobile communication. In 2009, New Zealand reported a cell-phone market penetration rate of 110 per cent.
This uptake of mobile phones—especially texting—has given the ministry a chance to engage more readily with fishers, while sharing its knowledge base about marine life.
For example, the smart-phone service enables fishers to text in their fish species name to a four-digit number.
They then receive a 160 character message reply with the minimum size and the number of fish they can reel in for a particular geographical area.
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has endorsed the service, which she said would help recreational fishers understand the rules, while more readily protecting fish stock.