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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

‘The app provides fishermen timely advisories on weather conditions and helps them find best places to fish’

The app uses technology to help fishermen navigate the choppy waters of the oceans.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: August 24, 2021 5:21:59 pm
Angela Baker, the head of corporate responsibility at Qualcomm Inc speaks to The Indian Express about the initiative. (Express photo)

Qualcomm, a company specialising in wireless technology and research, has been collaborating closely with the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation to develop an app for fishermen. The app uses technology to help fishermen navigate the choppy waters of the oceans. Angela Baker, head of corporate responsibility, Qualcomm Inc, spoke to Partha Sarathi Biswas about the initiative.

Your note talks about collaboration between the Fisheries Department and Fisher Friend (a mobile app) in terms of helping the fishermen of India. What is the nature of the collaboration? Which states have seen maximum usage of your app in India?

The Fisher Friend mobile application was developed after several consultative meetings with fishermen and other stakeholders to understand their needs. The application has been deployed across India’s coastline in eight local languages and English. The app has seen over 65,000 downloads, with the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Odisha and Kerala showing the highest engagement.

We have actively engaged with the state Fisheries Departments to promote the app. MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), the implementing agency, has signed an MOU with the government of Kerala to promote the app in the state. MSSRF has created state-level and district-level advisory committees to seek advice from experts on implementing the app. These committees also include officials from the state Fisheries Departments. The committees meet every six months to discuss programme implementation, offer feedback and advice, and suggest other organisations which could contribute to the initiative.

As the Fisher Friend app provides valuable information for safeguarding the lives and livelihood assets of fishermen, various state governments have invited the Fisher Friend team to promote the app in their outreach events for fishermen. The Fisher Friend team has engaged with the commissioners of several state Fisheries Departments to participate in the consultative meetings with fishermen. Meanwhile, local government officials are involved in campaigns at the village, district, and state levels. These officials educate the fishermen about the importance of the Fisher Friend app and encourage them to use it. The government of Puducherry has incorporated the Fisher Friend programme into the co-management programme for resource management for fisheries and livelihood strategies of fishermen.

Have you observed any potential effect of climate change on the fish population along the Indian coastline?

Production from marine capture fisheries has been stagnant during the past 10 years because of overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution. Climate change may exacerbate this situation. The warming of the seas impacts the diversity, distribution, abundance and phenology of fish, and water acidification affects calciferous animals. As per research by CMFRI, these are a couple of changes that fisheries have experienced due to climate change.

Small pelagic fish like oil sardines are moving northward.

Until 1985, almost the entire catch of oil sardines was from the Malabar upwelling zone, with little or no catch from latitudes north of 14 N. However, during the past two decades, oil sardines are moving northward, leading to an increase in catch between latitudes 14-20 N, owing to a warming of the seas between these latitudes. It is known that the higher the sea surface temperature, the better the oil sardine catch. However, this has not led to a decrease in catch from the Malabar upwelling zone.

Indian mackerel is going deeper into the sea. This breed of fish usually occupies surface and sub-surface waters. But recent studies indicate that more than 15% of mackerel have been caught by bottom trawlers along the Indian coast. So, it appears that, with the warming of sub-surface waters, the mackerel has been going deeper down into the sea.

Your app is mostly aimed at marine fisheries, that too traditional ones. Based on your studies, do you think it is still economical to be a small-time fisherman in India? With cyclones becoming more common, what changes do you think the fishermen would have to make in order to be profitable?

For decades, Indian fishers have relied on their traditional knowledge of fishing grounds. However, rapid climate changes have rendered their methods obsolete. As a result, fishermen have difficulty judging a safe time to venture out to sea and the best place to catch fish. Moreover, considering that the international border between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka is not marked, there is a danger that fishermen might accidentally cross the line and get penalised.

Small-scale fisheries – both motorised and non-motorised fisheries – are largely environment-friendly and cause less harm to habitats than industrial fisheries. However, the catch of small fishermen is negatively impacted by the operations of industrial fisheries.

The Fisher Friend application addresses many of the challenges small-scale fishermen face by providing timely advisories on weather and sea conditions and helping them find the best places to fish. In addition, the use of technology helps them even during adverse weather events such as cyclones. For example, the app helped save as many as 400 lives during Cyclone Okhi through its timely alerts. More recently, when Cyclone Tauktae hit the western coast of India, the app provided regular alerts, warning fishermen about the danger.

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