Seattle technology professionals gathered over the weekend at Impact Hub Seattle to participate in a “Fishackathon,” one of 41 Fishackathons that took place in cities around the world timed with Earth Day. These events are coordinated by the U.S. Department of State, with the goal of using data science and technology to reduce global overfishing, while protecting our environment and food supply.
Microsoft was the organizing sponsor for the two-day event, with Vulcan Technology providing key financial support and industry expertise. “Ocean health is the ultimate common problem, because we can’t have a healthy local ecosystem in the Puget Sound if the oceans that surround us are not healthy,” said Candace Faber, the city of Seattle’s Civic Technology Advocate. “As Seattle Mayor Ed Murray often reminds us, Seattle has long been defined by our innovation and creativity. On Earth Day, what better way to apply that than by transforming our technical know-how into solutions to a major problem that affects us all?”
Seattle technologists worked with selected experts to define and scope nine specific challenges, which were released on the first day. Then teams spread out to start working on various solutions. The global winner will be announced on World Oceans Day, June 8. Interesting proposals included:
- Image-recognition technology capable of identifying mass-caught fish as they are brought into boats, in order to capture quantity, species, maturity and health. The amount of data needed to create the model is significant, but the impact would be huge, in terms of better understanding those species at potential risk.
- A tracking system to monitor improperly disposed of nets, a major, yet common, problem. Such nets are pollutants that can harm large numbers of fish at a time. If a fishing operation is continuously buying nets but never disposing of them, they’re likely tossing them, intentionally or not, into the sea. Providing an incentive to turn in nets to a registered recycle facility allows regulatory bodies to track which boats are being responsible and which are polluting oceans with old gear.
The winning team, King Triton, developed a solution that uses fishing vessel data to catch those breaking international and other laws governing the industry. The team’s proposal will be submitted to the U.S. Department of State’s global competition. The winner receives a $10,000 cash prize, and the solution will be developed by a third-party development team funded by the State Department.
“We are at a pivotal time in history where technology is having a major impact on the effectiveness of philanthropic efforts, particularly those focused on ocean health,” said Ravi Jain, chief technology officer for Vulcan Inc. “What I saw during this year’s Fishackathon in Seattle was very encouraging. Challenged with sweeping problem statements, engineers and fishery scientists came together to create amazing concepts.”
What also made this event special was the overwhelming support of industry experts acting as mentors. They came from the city of Seattle, Marine Affairs Research & Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Socrata, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Vulcan’s Oceans, Illegal Fishing, and Tech Philanthropy programs. Some even joined teams and had a big impact on the quality of the finished products. It’s our hope that future collaborations will follow the “Fishackathon” model, leading to innovative solutions for vital local and global concerns.