Part 1: Communicating Government Data Modernization

The nascent state of government fisheries data modernization means many countries lack awareness of not only what fisheries data modernization entails, but how data modernization could improve fisheries management and the long-term seafood trade of their country. Research to identify promising communication approaches to reach government stakeholders revealed five key communication insights and four strategic entry points that may help introduce government agencies to the data modernization concept.


The first step in communicating about data modernization is to be able to define what it is. Currently, no single definition of data modernization exists. Our findings include the following  proposed holistic definition to help align missions and root strategy in common goals:

Government fisheries data modernization is any initiative or process that results in more accurate data and/or more efficient and timely data delivery and analyses that support both improved governance (management, science, and enforcement) and serves industry and public needs for the long term.

This definition includes three core elements—accuracy, timeliness, and access to data and analyses—for three core stakeholder groups: government, industry, and public stakeholders. The definition does not restrict data modernization to technological improvements.  Improved protocols for data capture and sharing in paper-based systems would be considered modernization if those protocols facilitated better management and insight for stakeholders.  That said, technology, and especially electronic systems, are best positioned to provide the efficiencies and data QA/QC that is needed. But technology alone is not enough. In fact, piecemeal technology adoption without a holistic plan for integration and analysis of newly generated data often creates more problems.

A detailed analysis of fisheries information systems around the world is beyond the scope of this report; however, we provide a schematic (Figure 1) to describe the major data flows, processes, and decision-making that might be enabled by a holistic government fisheries data modernization process that could achieve these three goals.

Figure 1. Simplified schematic of modernized fisheries data systems and the decision-making such systems support.

Robust design, including change management, in addition to new software and hardware integration, is key to success. Studies exploring barriers to technology uptake and interoperability in the fisheries and seafood sector have highlighted the critical role of relationship dynamics, cultural factors, learning curves, and work habits in preventing technology adoption.(1) As in any system, technology must be viewed as a tool, not the solution in and of itself. It is the successful application of technology that matters—and that requires sound strategy and design incorporating the human elements of the problem.

Building awareness and engaging governments

The nascent state of government fisheries data modernization means many agencies lack awareness of not only what fisheries data modernization entails, but how data modernization could improve fisheries management and the long-term seafood trade of their country. Research to identify promising communication approaches to reach government stakeholders revealed five key communication insights and four strategic entry points that may help introduce government agencies to the data modernization concept. The insights provided here can be applied (and in fact, are being applied!) by a number of groups leading initiatives to promote a range of data modernization efforts at a global scale, including The Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT); The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST); Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies (SAFET); The Small Scale Fisheries Hub (SSF Hub), and an emerging partnership between Global Fishing Watch and Human Rights at Sea.

Communication Insights: How to Spark Interest

Science and Enforcement Divisions are Promising Gatekeepers
The Challenge: Governments often struggle to accept outside expertise, due to a range of reasons: prior bad experiences with NGOs or development agencies; fear of looking unprepared or lacking experience; or a strong cultural preference for working internally.
The Strategy: The science and enforcement arms of government currently appear most open to collaboration and exploration of modernization solutions for fisheries challenges. Leverage the interest in these departments to reach the fisheries managers and decision-makers.

Workshop Your Way In  
The Challenge: Governments are often resistant to outside assistance. As a newcomer to the space, finding a way to initially gain access to key decision-makers can be challenging.
The Strategy: In-person symposiums or workshops provide venues to detail and share the benefits of an approach, tool set, or strategy in a specific fisheries context,  and serve as an effective approach for initially engaging important government officials.

Multi-pronged approaches are a must
The Challenge: Government organizational structures are fragmented and often siloed. Thus, no one decision-maker can push through an idea from concept to implementation.   
The Strategy: Plan for a multi-pronged communication campaign that targets the needs of each critical individual and brings them together after initial interest is peaked.  

Focus on Acute Needs
The Challenge: As governments begin down the path of data modernization, they are bound to hit sticking points—particularly as projects start to get off the ground.  In addition, the people and departments executing these projects are most likely resource strapped, under deadline, and worried about being publicly embarrassed if their pilot projects and initiatives are unsuccessful. These conditions combined to create a sense of urgency and often a singularity of focus, whereby attention to anything other than resolving the immediate problem is impossible.
The Strategy: The most effective way to begin engagement with governments involves: a) learning what pain points are in order of importance and b) understanding how to address the most urgent needs or concerns quickly, effectively, and in-person.

Strategic Entry Points: Align with Existing Values

In addition to identifying best practices, our initial analysis also surfaced several “strategic entry points” that appear ripe either to engage governments to initiate fisheries data modernization efforts, or as opportunities to expand a current effort into a more holistic endeavor. These strategic lines may help accelerate progress by:
  1. Assisting practitioners within or outside government to identify positive incentives or goals that may attract the attention and support of needed government staff and leaders
  2. Helping steer funders who wish to push more holistic fisheries data modernization towards projects that serve as promising stepping stones into larger fisheries data modernization conversation and action.

For each of these entry points, we have identified target stakeholders that may be most interested and incentivized, and the rationale behind and potential of the strategy.  For the target, note we use USA-specific descriptions but intend equivalent agencies for countries with different government structures.

Robust Fisheries Management for Resource Security
Target: Fisheries or state agencies, Department of Public Health (nutrition and food security); Department of Labor (job creation and employment rates)
The Push: Enormous resources are poured into countries via international development finance institutions targeting poverty alleviation,  food security, and economic growth and linkage to global markets. The health of local fisheries are inherently tied to these issues, especially in countries where large portions of the population participate in or rely upon local, artisanal fisheries or ecotourism for their food or livelihoods.
The Potential: With appropriate design and deal structuring, a percentage of development financing could be explicitly channeled to spark and support holistic data modernization efforts within fisheries divisions as a means to drive better fisheries management that in turn secures livelihoods and improves the stability and sustainable growth of the sector’s output. The longer time horizons of these development programs (5-10 years) allows for the continued support needed to build capacity, weather government turnovers, and execute a comprehensive vision.

Trade and Tourism
Target: Department of Commerce; Department of Agriculture.
The Push: New and stricter trade regulations (e.g. US SIMP and EU import laws), continued growth of FIPs and certifications, increased interest in mariculture, and in some regions, increased consumer demand for ethical seafood, are pushing industry and government reforms. In addition, with coastal and marine tourism expected to be the largest value-adding segment of the ocean economy by 2030,  countries are beginning to recognize the importance (and value) of restoring and preserving healthy marine environments to their local economies.  
The Potential: To meet both the opportunities and demands of the trade and tourism sectors requires that governments have better and more timely information to effectively and efficiently monitor and manage their fisheries—creating a strong case for data modernization.

Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Initiatives
Target: Fisheries division; Government IT department or CTOs.
The Push: EM and ER technologies and systems are gaining traction in fisheries around the world.  Technology is becoming smaller, less expensive, and new processes are reducing the time required to effectively analyze the data.
The Potential: EM and ER provide scores of new information, creating a need for new data storage and analyses —such capacity needs can be a great opportunity to build out a holistic data management system for the country. Consideration for the following may be especially useful in sparking this expansion:

  • For EM, establish a broad vision for how data can be used to achieve compliance and science/management goals; one clear purpose may be needed to launch a pilot (such as compliance-focused initiative) but building in future-capacity to leverage these systems to their full effect will allow for maximum benefits. Benefits to industry are also key, and may include things such as worker safety and insurance against false claims of IUU.
  • More data without enforcement achieves nothing. Ensure strategies are developed so that information from EM and ER can be used for management, science, and enforcement.
  • Fear of EM/ER impacts on employment is common. Knowing how to anticipate and address this can help with building trust and buy-in.

National and Maritime Security
Target: Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and Coast Guard Agencies.
The Push: Efforts to more effectively protect national waters and resources from illicit activities, from piracy to drug trafficking, are gaining traction in many developing regions of the world.
The Potential: As nations collaborate and invest in technical and analytical capabilities to better monitor and enforce their national waters, there is opportunity to bring training and capacity into the fisheries realm, as some critical data comes from fishing fleets; also, there is often overlap in jurisdiction and responsibility between maritime security and fisheries enforcement agencies
Communicating and gaining the government’s attention, however, is just the first step.  Part 2 of this report dives into best practices (and known barriers to look out for) in designing and implementing effective modernization strategies.

Consider the Role of Data Modernization Initiatives as a Risk Mitigation Tool
Target: Military/Department of Defense; Tax Departments (relief funds); National Fisheries Agencies.
The Push: A lack of coordination and data accessibility restricts government capacity to effectively and rapidly utilize and apply information for the benefits of their constituents—especially in response to change. In fact, these inefficiencies limit the ability of both governments and industry to better mitigate negative impacts from catastrophic events (such as market and trade disruptions due to COVID-19), climate change-induced impacts on stock health, location, or abundance, or political upheavals that impact rules and regulations. In some cases, the lack of efficient data coordination exacerbates these negative impacts, such as the case we see illustrated by the impacts of Brexit on UK fishers who are now required to fill out over 70 pages of paperwork for every shipment entering the EU.  
The Potential: While strong, co-designed data frameworks and technologies cannot protect against these major disruptions, we believe they can provide a way for governments and industry to rapidly assess and respond to acute changes in fishery stocks and market and supply chain disruptions. For example, during COVID-19, more integrated data systems could support struggling fishers to process elogbook information to help provide access to relief funds; provide fishers with the information and resources needed to find available buyers; determine viable species for diversification options; and assess opportunities for aggregate sales with local partners.  Accessible, integrated data allows everyone involved to better achieve the full potential benefits of data analyses and application, including crisis response.




1. See for example, Hardt et al., 2016. Current Barriers to Large-scale Interoperability of Traceability Technology in the seafood sector. Journal of Food Science, 82(S1):A3-A12; Bhatt T, Cusack C, Dent B, Gooch M, Jones D, Newsome R, Stitzinger J, Sylvia G, Zhang J. 2016. Traceability technology architecture: issues brief. Comp Rev Food Sci Food Saf 15:392–429.