If you’ve ever visited a foreign fishing port, you know that it’s always an experience walking the docks and looking around. It’s fascinating to see different looking boats and gear, while discovering new and interesting markets for landed product.

But despite some of these outward facing differences, challenges faced by fishermen, regardless of hailing port or country, are rarely different from the challenges we face in our own backyards here in the US: ongoing public perception issues, existential threats to our fisheries such as industrial development, and an ongoing battle with fishery regulators, eNGOs, and others. Besides, it’s hard enough just keeping our boats running, crews safe, and making sure a quality product makes it from deck to dealer. But there are lessons to be learned from other parts of the country and around the world that we should seriously consider as we fight our own battles here at home.

Joel Redman, is a permit holder and skipper in the lucrative southern rock lobster fishery in South Australia, and he had this to say about some of the challenges, like whales and wind, that the fishing industry is facing in New England today:

“Nobody can tell the government, offshore wind companies, or anyone else for that matter where our fishing grounds are but us, the fishermen.”

In 2013, Redman and others in the rock lobster industry were facing the threat of a new marine protected area, which was proposed to go on top of some of their most lucrative fishing grounds. Their group, the South East Professional Fishermen’s Association (SEPFA), had a choice to make: roll over and let regulators decide what, if any, fishing grounds deserve to be spared from the MPA; or, find a way to get a better seat at the table – and fast.

“As fishermen, we quickly realized that having a real seat at the table – to actually make a difference on these issues – meant we had to finally take ownership and control of collecting our own data with our own industry-adopted electronic logbook,” said Redman.

The fleet didn’t have to share any of their data with the regulators to hold off the encroaching marine protected area. Rather, they generated good PR, based on the adoption of Australia-based Deckhand electronic logbook product and near-real-time collection of data on the fishing grounds, which compelled regulators to move the boundaries. Plus, it put the fleet in a much more favorable position when it came to managing fishery resources, quota, and weathering other headwinds, such as crises that unfolded with Chinese export markets.

Ultimately, the marine protected area boundaries were moved, and SEPFA members’ fishing grounds were spared.

“Fishermen around the world who face similar issues need to take what we did seriously. I think it’s the only way to actually move the needle on something like offshore wind or whales on the US east coast, based on what I’m hearing,” added Redman.

What Redman is talking about is the raw power, held by fishermen and their associations, to stay out in front of these issues. We can do this by not just collecting data for the sake of VMS or electronic logbook rules, but for building a war chest of fisherman-owned data to ensure a firm seat at the table with unmistakable evidence of where the most productive fishing grounds actually exist. As the rock lobster industry experienced in Australia, this can greatly increase the odds of positive outcomes for fishermen in future management decisions, debates about offshore development, and even litigation.

Some products allow fishermen to collect and use data for their own private use, more along the lines of a traditional logbook. As harvesters face increasingly suffocating regulations and challenges to their livelihoods, it’s important to keep an eye out for products that offer value to fishermen beyond helping them follow regulations.

Commercial fishermen are a proud and powerful bunch that share a lot in common, from New England to South Australia and beyond. In the age of technology, collecting as much data as you can and keeping a firm grasp on it for when times get tough can bolster that power even more.

By: Lange Solberg.

Lange Solberg is a commercial fisherman and the business development manager for Real Time Data North America.