Florida is turning to an unlikely ally in the fight against invasive fish: Swedish software engineers.
On Tuesday, state and U.S. wildlife officials announced a new partnership with Fishbrain, a fishing app developed by a Swedish fisherman that lets fellow anglers share fishing conquests and prattle on endlessly about fly patterns and tidal fluctuations, without annoying all their friends. The state plans to use the app, and its 250,000 registered Florida users, to mine for data to better track 15 freshwater exotic fish.
“These are thousands of citizen scientists [potentially] helping us track where the fish are or letting us know about a new species,” said Kelly Gestring, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist who first learned about the app from a teenage angler at a high school talk.
“I was completely unaware of it,” he said.
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Web engineer Jens Persson created Fishbrain in 2011 to log details on his fishing exploits, then teamed up with a pair of internet entrepreneurs who say they now have 3 million users worldwide. Because most anglers are also passionate about environmental issues, CEO Johan Attby said letting wildlife officials tap into the data to fight invasive species seemed like a natural fit. In 2015, the company launched a similar project tracking 50 at-risk and endangered species with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is really core to Fishbrain,” Attby said. “We’re willing to share with nonprofits if this can benefit sustainable fishing in general. It’s something we really want.”
The way it works is simple. The app, which combines Facebook social networking with utility features, lets users post and comment on photos, log the locations of catches and search catches by species. Anglers can follow each other, follow types of fishing and kinds of fish and get local weather conditions. A mapping feature provides an ongoing, and pretty accurate, depiction of where fish are caught.
It’s this last bit of information that Florida wildlife officials are after. The state now tries to track exotic species through its Early Detection & Distribution (EDD) maps, a tool well known to scientists but not generally to the public. For the public, the state created the IveGot1 app, but it’s dominated by reports about reptiles and mammals. Fish, Gestring said, don’t get much notice.
“The key thing about this one is all about fish,” he said.
For the pilot project, the state chose 15 fish — including two types of tilapia, the bullseye snakehead, Rio Grande cichlid, some catfish and others — commonly caught by anglers to improve odds of getting information, Gestring said. Once an angler logs a catch, the data is captured by the app and relayed to wildlife officials. Attby said the team was sensitive about anglers’ fear of disclosing too much information about good fishing spots, so made including details optional. But the team is hoping the desire to fight invasives will override the tendency to be secretive. So far, the majority of users have shared locations, he said.
The basic app is free. A “premium” version that provides a fishing forecast, a ranking for bait and lures, a tracking map by species and other features costs $5.99 a month or $60 a year.
With 1.3 million catches logged so far, Gestring said the app has the potential to help wildlife officials better track the spread of fish and get a jump start on trying to contain them. Take the bullseye snakehead. First discovered in a Broward County canal in 2000, the toothy Asian fish that will eat almost anything has spread into canals in southern Palm Beach County. What worries biologists is a move into the Everglades.
“In the last couple of years, they’ve expanded their range probably by anglers illegally releasing them into new waters,” he said. “We’re familiar with what they do in the habitat they were originally found in, but we’re not sure what they might do if they get into new habitat.”
If anglers take to the project, Attby said the app can be tailored and used to track other species. The company is sharing the information for free, happy for the added exposure.
“We don’t just want to be a social network,” he said. “We don’t want to be a Facebook for fisherman.”
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich