Inaugural Auckland Fishackathon tackles maritime issues through innovation

The inaugural Auckland Fishackathon teams. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.

Almost half of the world’s population relies on fish and seafood as a key source of protein – yet, overall, 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks for which assessment information is available are reported as fully exploited or overexploited, requiring effective and precautionary management.

As part of tackling this issue, February 10-11th 2018 saw three teams take part in Auckland’s inaugural Fishackathon – a global Department of State program combining technology, innovation and entrepreneurship to address challenges in fisheries, the environment, and economic sustainability.

Across a 48-hour period, teams in more than 65 cities around the world focused on 12 challenges (11 international, one local) relating to fisheries enforcement, fisheries marketplaces and commercial operations, and sustainability, developing both hardware and software solutions to the various problems.  Auckland’s teams chose to address the following challenges, with a range of innovative solutions:

  1. Fish identification: A key challenge in fisheries management is accurate identification of fish species. The current methods for identifying fish are time-consuming, expensive, and reliant on unreliable human expertise.

In response, the EFish Team developed a mobile app for recreational fishers that uses augmented reality to identify fish species and size, including red flags for endangered species and size, as well as tracking limits, location, dates, seasonal restrictions and more.

The EFish Team presenting their solution to judges, mentors and other participants. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.
The EFish Team presenting their solution to judges, mentors and other participants. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.
  1. Unutilized bycatch: In commercial fishing, the bycatch, or unintended catch, of marine species other than the target species puts pressure on marine species’ populations by removing individuals or potentially modifying ecosystems.  How can this unutilized catch be better used or reduced?

The Fishervive Team developed a concept digital e-commerce platform to address this challenge – by connecting fishing operators directly with purchasers (eateries and commercial food operators) in a platform to highlight freshly available (potentially less commonly used) catches in selectable regions, as well as trends of seasonal cost. Additional features include recipes and information about less-common fish species to increase the potential of their use and purchase.

The Fishervive Team presenting their solution to judges, mentors and other participants. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.
The Fishervive Team presenting their solution to judges, mentors and other participants. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.
  1. Passive IUU detection device: Protecting restricted fishing zones (e.g. marine reserves, remote areas) from illegal fishing is a huge challenge. A passive tool that helps identify fishing activity in restricted areas would help agencies monitor, track, and enforce laws more effectively.

The winning group, Team Okean, developed a working model of a hydrophone buoy system that, in combination with ground-based observation stations, is able to passively monitor and detect illegal fishing in marine protected areas – using the iconic Goat Island Marine reserve in Leigh as a test case. The buoy identifies specific audio patterns associated with fishing activity, and creates the potential to provide a high-value, low-cost solution to protecting New Zealand’s waters from IUU fishing.

While Team Okean won the day with an innovative and technically complex hardware solution, all the teams demonstrated outstanding creative ability and technical excellence, said U.S. diplomat and #Fishhackathon NZ judge Craig Halbmaier.  All teams also received generous offers of follow-on mentoring and support from GridAKL and Foundation North, to assist in bringing these solutions to life.

U.S. Diplomat Craig Halbmaier, Opposition’s Spokesperson for Science and Innovation Dr Parmjeet Parmar, and Fishackathon Co-Director Graham Harris. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.
U.S. Diplomat Craig Halbmaier, Opposition’s Spokesperson for Science and Innovation Dr Parmjeet Parmar, and Fishackathon Co-Director Graham Harris. Photo credit. U.S. Department of State.

Wrapping up the event, Fishackathon Co-Director Graham Harris said, “I would like this weekend not to end with prize-giving, but to be the start of conversations without limit; between team members, between teams, between participants, mentors and sponsors; and between all of us and the people who weren’t part of the weekend but need to be part of our solutions.”

The Auckland event was supported by the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand, as well as Foundation North, the New Zealand Defence Force, GridAKL and the Enspiral Dev Academy.