(NEWSLETTER - Fall 2019)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what stories can a black and white photograph tell? The Council’s second citizen science project, FISHstory (pronounced like history), will allow participants to step back in time to the docks of Daytona Beach, Florida, in the 1940s-70s. This pilot project will train citizen science volunteers to identify and count fish in historic fishing photos. Data collected will help document historic catches and fish lengths, building a more complete picture of the fishery prior to dedicated catch monitoring programs.
Species composition and length data can be critical to accurately estimate stock productivity. However, in the South Atlantic there is very little information prior to the 1970s on overall catch or size composition in the for-hire fisheries. As a result, it’s critical that we fill these data gaps to help evaluate assumptions about stock productivity. Historic photos, untapped sources of this important biological data, can help do just that.
In the past, fishermen have approached the Council and others about archiving their historical saltwater sportfishing photos to document the beginnings of the for-hire fishery in the South Atlantic. These photos could provide a better baseline of the catch composition of the for-hire sector in the years prior to fishery-dependent surveys. But before the Council’s Citizen Science Program collects photographs from stakeholders across the region, the FISHstory project will focus on a headboat fleet fishing out of Daytona Beach, Florida, to see if this methodology proves useful. The historic photos for the pilot project were provided by Rusty Hudson, a long-time Florida fisherman who currently serves on the Council’s Snapper Grouper and Mackerel Cobia advisory panels. The photos are from his family’s headboat fishing fleet and represent over 40 years of family and fishing history.
To document historic species composition, the project will use an online crowdsourcing platform called Zooniverse that will allow people to be trained to identify species in the images. Zooniverse allows project builders, like the Council, to construct and manage citizen science projects. Volunteers from around the globe, then become citizen scientists, contributing to a range of projects by identifying data from a wide variety of sources, such as photographs of space or trail cameras in Africa.
Identifying fish in the historic black and white photos can be challenging even to those who are fish ID experts. Volunteers will have access to tutorials and training materials that are under development now. Additionally, a team of species ID experts, comprised of fishermen and scientists, will review and help validate the citizen scientists’ species identifications.
FISHstory will also develop and pilot test a method to estimate fish lengths for one species from the historic photos. An open-source image analysis software will be used to analyze lengths. If the methodology proves successful, it can potentially be expanded to get length estimates for more species in the future.
FISHstory will launch in early 2020! In preparation, we invite you to create a Zooniverse account and explore other projects. Go to Zooniverse.org to start the process. If you’re interested in learning more about the project or serving on the Species ID Validation Team, please contact Allie Iberle, FISHstory Project Coordinator, or Julia Byrd, Citizen Science Program Manager.
To keep up with the Citizen Science Program or receive information about getting involved in projects, please fill out the online form HERE to provide us with your contact info and join the email distribution list!
[Back to e-Newsletter - South Atlantic Update, Fall 2019]