Citizen Science Corner [Fall 2020]

[Fall 2020 South Atlantic Update Newsletter]

Citizen science data collection programs have been around for many years. However, there is currently a growing interest in these programs for their stakeholder engagement benefits, potential to fill data gaps, and for the technological advances that increase opportunities for the public to contribute to science. Through the development of the Council’s Citizen Science Program, one of the things we heard loud and clear from scientists, managers, and fishermen across the region is how important it is to support projects that collect data that can be used for science and management decision making. As the number of citizen science and non-traditional data collection projects increase, many organizations want to figure out how these types of data can be better incorporated into fisheries stock assessments and management.

To explore this issue, the Council’s Citizen Science Program teamed up with NOAA Fisheries to organize a symposium at the American Fisheries Society’s (AFS) annual virtual meeting in September 2020. The symposium included a series of presentations and a live session where presenters gave a brief overview of their work and had a panel discussion about the opportunities and challenges of citizen science projects.

The symposium included a diverse group of presenters representing projects from across the country. There were 12 presentations, including two from the Council’s Citizen Science Program. Projects included partnerships with commercial and recreational fishermen, community data collection programs on beaches, as well as online crowdsourcing projects for image analysis. Presentations spanned from pilot projects to programs with over 20 years of data.

Presentations highlighted successes - demonstrating how citizen science projects can help collect data that would otherwise be unavailable or unfeasible to collect due to resource constraints. Examples included instances where data were successfully incorporated into the stock assessment process, such as the VA Marine Gamefish Tagging Program’s data used in the SEDAR Cobia Stock ID process.  Additionally, projects noted that collaborative work can help foster partnerships and build trust in the stock assessment and management process.

Common challenges for citizen science projects included long-term funding and volunteer recruitment and retention.  While long term data collection programs can often be the most useful for assessments, finding long term support for projects can be difficult even if they are successful. Many projects noted the challenges associated with volunteer recruitment and retention while also pointing out that small incentives – like t-shirts and hats – can go a long way. Consistent data collection and data quality were also common themes, with presenters noting the importance of volunteer training and data validation.

During the live session, presenters emphasized the importance of thinking about data use when developing citizen science projects. If a project wants to collect data for fisheries management, presenters noted it can be helpful to work with the scientists or managers who may use the data. Guidance from the end user during project development can ensure the data are collected in a way that meets end user needs. Panel members also noted the need to improve coordination between governmental and non-governmental agencies so that citizen science and other non-traditional data collection programs can be made available for use in the management process.

This symposium brought together an incredible group of people working in citizen science across fisheries to share best practices.  As the citizen science field continues to grow, it will be important to keep up these conversations to guide the future use of these data. Special thanks go out to our symposium co-organizers at NOAA Fisheries, Laura Oremland, Abigail Furnish, and Richard Cody and to all our wonderful presenters.

Want to keep up with the Citizen Science Program and projects? Fill out the online form HERE to join our email distribution list or follow the Council on social media!

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