Our communications team sat down with Alex Tilley, scientist at WorldFish, and Dave Solomon, CEO at Pelagic Data Systems to discuss how WorldFish’s partnership with Pelagic Data Systems (PDS) is transforming data collection in small-scale fisheries.
WorldFish: Tell us a bit more about how you first met.
Alex: We first met on a project field site in southern Myanmar, on a very wet day and under challenging circumstances, as we watched our field site washing away. We tried to put some tracking devices on the boats while in dry dock but ended up mostly swimming between them by the end of the day. But it all worked out alright in the end.
WorldFish: How was the beginning of the partnership?
Dave: Well, it came unexpectedly. I got a text message from Alex two years ago that said, “Can you be in East Timor in two weeks?”
Alex: Yes, we had trialed some different solutions in East Timor to try to generate useful data from small-scale fisheries, which is traditionally a vast knowledge gap, a data gap to be more precise. PDS provided an innovative, new solution to doing that, so I thought let’s get them out to Timor and see if it works. It was the beginning of what evolved into the digital pipeline for small-scale fisheries that is now the official monitoring system in Timor.
WorldFish: How is this innovation being scaled up?
Dave: Thanks to another Inspire Challenge prize, we’re in the process of scaling it up globally. We’ve started various partnerships and have some data coming in from seven countries.
Alex: But the scale-up is not just about moving geographies or getting bigger, but also about making the product more financially sustainable and adaptable to different uses. There are ideas not just around tracking and data gathering, but other innovative combinations of projects as well.
Dave: By digging into the network of entrepreneurs doing exciting work in San Francisco and abroad, we can bring in people that can help with all sorts of other things like feeds for fish or ways to reduce carbon outputs from boats.
WorldFish: Why the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)?
Alex: We just thought an MOU between WorldFish and PDS was a sensible place to start. It allows us to say let’s work together to develop research and projects of common interest.
Dave: The essential thing for us [PDS] moving forward is that WorldFish has the same values as we do. The WorldFish theory of change focused on people is an aspect that resonates with us.
WorldFish: Can we jump back to Timor-Leste? How did the fishers feel when you brought in these devices? How did the fisherman receive them on the first day?
Alex: There’s an interesting story behind it, because there’s usually a lot of skepticism around tracking devices, and you often hear rejection phrases such as “I don’t wish to install the device and don’t want to report my data.” In this case, there was a fight over who got to use it in Timor, so that was a nice ‘welcome to the country’ for Dave. The great thing about the partnership is that it allows scaling quickly, and already the government of Timor has supported a national monitoring system.
WorldFish: Where are these devices currently used?
Dave: Pelagic has units deployed all over the world. With WorldFish, we have data coming in already from seven countries across Asia and Africa.
Alex: In general, we try to work through our networks and get some data from particular places before we approach the government to discuss collaborations.
WorldFish: What is the potential impact of this partnership?
Dave: This partnership will reach millions of people, and this is where we see it’s true potential.
Alex: It’s really about the power of obtaining data that up to now were invisible. It brings a better understanding of the role fish play in food systems and enables data-driven decision-making. It’s not about tracking every single fisher, but what the data can say about the much bigger picture over time and space.
WorldFish: Alex, what’s the best thing about working with PDS?
Alex: It’s a new, fresh perspective to me. As a scientist, I have a particular way of doing things. PDS comes at it from the perspective of “let’s make this as efficient as possible”. None of the paperwork or bureaucracy, and that’s refreshing. It’s rapid-fire. It brings impact and results quickly.
WorldFish: Dave, what’s the best thing about working with WorldFish?
Dave: For PDS, it’s the flip side of that coin. It allows us to add more scientific rigor to the work we’re doing. And it adds a new level of intentionality to the design of our programs.
WorldFish: What are the next steps for the partnership?
Dave: We are sitting down over the next few months to map out a much more detailed plan of the dashboard and analytics developments, and will be seeking impact investment to augment the scaling of the pipeline work.
Alex: This will be an exciting year that sees us exploring previously unanswerable questions about small-scale fisheries, and how new analytical techniques can drive other innovations in fish-based livelihoods and value chains.