Citizen’s science program aims to fill data gaps in Alaska’s waters

Skipper Science
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 2:52 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska has more than 33,000 miles of shoreline — more than one-third of all shoreline of the United States. Research in Alaska waters is fairly common but with so much water surrounding the state, big data gaps are inevitable.

Skipper Science is a citizen’s science program that asks fishermen in Alaska’s waters to take observations and report them. It’s one of 12 citizen science environmental monitoring programs within the Indigenous Sentinels Network.

“Skipper Science specifically works with fishing and commercial fishing industries and communities across the state of Alaska,” Indigenous Sentinels Network Coordinator Hannah-Marie Garcia said.

One of the key elements of Skipper Science is a smartphone app that allows fishermen to log observations real-time, from the fishing grounds. Garcia says it doesn’t require Wi-Fi or cell service — which can be a challenge anywhere in Alaska.

“Fishermen are really able to become citizen scientists and catalog conditions that they’re seeing shift, whether that’s species shifts, the health of fishery stocks and other environmental conditions, in a really streamlined and easy way,” Garcia said. “That can provide a path for their knowledge and expertise, to get it into the hands of researchers and managers across the state and really help us all recognize and grapple with the challenges that we’re seeing and really work together with managers and fishermen in the same capacity to help inform data gaps across the state and really build climate-resilient fisheries.”

The program began in 2021 and more than 150 fishermen have signed up. In addition, 19 Alaska-based fisheries and trade organizations have endorsed the program, according to Garcia.

The information that’s already been collected ranges from environmental data to specifics about species of fish.

“We’re really seeing a wide variety of data come in, everything from weather observations to water temperature, to marine debris, strange lacerations that we’re seeing on fish. And in general, we’re also building out not just the data collection ability for the program, but also the partnership work,” Garcia said.

“We host workshops and dialogues and are bringing together fishermen, scientists and resource managers into dialogue together so that we can really share knowledge with scientists in a highly collaborative and positive way, and really start to identify more targeted research efforts.”

The Indigenous Sentinels Network was developed by the Aleut Community of St. Paul Tribal government.

“Over the 20 years, we’ve grown into this network — or the Indigenous Sentinels Network — after being recognized for the flexibility to really support the collection of Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge and scientific information,” Garcia said. “To really start to help communities develop their own types of surveys that they want to collect information on, and empower that holistic ecosystem and community-centered natural resource management that can help inform decision making at multiple levels.”

To hear an extended interview about Skipper Science, listen to the Alaska’s News Source podcast In Depth Alaska.