From NC Sea Grant:
….At nearly every fisheries management meeting he attends, Baker hears the same complaint: North Carolina’s recreational fishermen don’t have to account for their catch. Two years ago, during a regional meeting about snapper and grouper, Baker looked down at his hands and finally saw a possible answer: his mobile phone.
“I wondered if you could send a text message to a computer database somewhere instead of just texting from phone to phone,” he says. “And if you could do that, maybe that was something recreational fishermen could do to track their catches and fishing effort.”
Commercial fishermen and seafood dealers must submit extensive paperwork tracking what they bring in on a daily basis. But there is no such requirement in the recreational industry.
Baker first shared his text messaging idea with friend Ian Oeschger, a software developer. A self-described “nerdy person,” Oeschger was intrigued. He agreed to build a system to accept text messages from anglers and translate that information into data.
“When I think of an idea that seems juicy like that, I just can’t help myself,” Oeschger says.
With funding from a North Carolina Sea Grant minigrant, Baker and Oeschger designed a pilot project to test their idea. The pair asked six Wilmington-area charter boat captains to use pre-paid mobile phones to text their fishing reports to an online text messaging service called “Twitter” (www.twitter.com).
A free service, Twitter allows people to connect with each other through “micro-blogging,” or posting messages that are no more than 140 characters. Once used primarily by teenagers and Blackberry addicts, “tweeting” is entering the mainstream — NASA even has a Twitter account posting status updates for high profile projects like the Mars I-Rover.
For Baker and Oeschger, Twitter provided an ideal online “collection bin” for the anglers’ experimental texts. Oeschger then built a separate database to continually query Twitter for new updates and put data into useable form.
“Most of the work was figuring out, ‘What does the data need to do?’ and ‘What is the most concise way for fishermen to communicate?’” Oeschger explains.
To answer these questions, he and Baker designed a compact syntax for fishermen to text in their reports, thereby minimizing reporting time and allowing for more content to be submitted in a single text message. For example, N2 E4 FA8R BL3 WEx20 translates to: Two anglers fished (N2), They fished for four hours (E4), They released eight false albacore (FA8R), they kept three Bluefish (BL3), and they kept one 20-inch weakfish (WEx20).
During an 18-week period, the charter captains submitted 128 trip reports describing 1957 finfish catches – 1123 were kept, 834 released. The captains describe the system as convenient, cost efficient and timely.
In addition to more accurate data, the immediacy of text-message based reporting systems may help all fishermen feel a greater sense of ownership when it comes to management decisions, Baker points out. Extensive paperwork for commercial fishermen and third person reports from the recreational industry’s MRIP can take several weeks or months to process. During that time, fisheries may be opened and closed based on old data, something that affects livelihoods on both sides.
“By having fishermen report data in a fast and efficient manner, you make them a greater part of the management process.”
Wow! Read the entire text for more details. This strikes me as a really innovative and useful application of Twitter. Hopefully it will spawn other copy-cats by people who can put microblogging platforms to a good use in scientific, medical or environmental fields.