Using Data to Stop ‘Fish Stories’

5/27/2015 : Raechel Waters

Using Data to Stop ‘Fish Stories’

5/27/2015 : Raechel Waters

Fishermen are known to exaggerate, especially about the “one that got away.” In English, a “fish story” is an expression meaning an improbable, boastful tale.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to exaggerate the impact that overfishing is having on the environment. According Dr. Daniel Pauly, professor and director of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Centre and the principal investigator for Sea Around Us, overfishing is having the most significant impact on ocean health.

Through a 15-year partnership between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of British Columbia, Sea Around Us collected and made available a remarkable amount of fisheries data; most notably their reconstructed catch data. These data have stimulated significant dialogue on the state of world fisheries and inform policy to combat illegal fishing and improve catch reporting in some of the world’s more vulnerable fishing grounds. But the data were often difficult to access.

Over the last few months, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and technical experts from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. have been working with Sea Around Us to build an open platform that significantly improves data access and visualizations.

The redesigned Sea Around Us website went live this week and will be improved steadily going forward, through the gradual incorporation of additional data and functionalities.

Here is an example of the kinds of visualizations that are now possible with the platform, highlighting Australia’s data which was mentioned last week by Dr. Pauly in his TEDx talk.

It’s easy to see the changes in Australia’s reconstructed catch data and for the government and researchers to correlate the conditions that led to the changes. The Foundation will be supporting Sea Around Us as they work to get the data into the hands of the people who can make an impact on ocean fisheries around the world.

This project is an example of how the Foundation and Paul G. Allen seek out and support the development of open-source tools that inform research, such as the Allen Brain Atlas, and decisions around conservation, such as the Great Elephant Census. It is also part of Mr. Allen’s growing portfolio of ocean and wildlife related philanthropic projects that address issues ranging from ocean acidification to wildlife trafficking.

As Dr. Pauly encourages, go and surf the data on to learn more about the biodiversity of ocean fisheries.

- Raechel Waters is senior program officer for ocean health. 

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Janet Greenlee