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Better data is MarViva's hook for more sustainable fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific

Stephanie Condon Profile picture for user Stephanie Condon July 6, 2023
In the biodiverse region of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, non-profit MarViva is working with systems integrator Hakkoda to better track and certify sustainable fishing practices.

Fishing boats on Costa Rica's Pacific coast © Fertnig via
(© Fertnig via

Within the blue waters of the Eastern Tropical Pacific exists one of the world's richest marine ecosystems. The biodiverse region is home to unique, vulnerable and endangered animals. It's also crucial for coastal economies in Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama, which rely largely on fishing and eco-tourism.

Preserving that ecosystem is a vital but challenging job — it requires buy-in from artisan fishermen, the larger commercial fish market, local government officials and others. That level of cooperation is enhanced by trusted data. Regional marine conservation NGO MarViva is working with Hakkoda, a specialized systems integrator, to reliably collect and leverage that data to win the support of everyone involved. Ultimately, it will help them create a sustainable system for the use of marine and coastal resources. Cristina Sanchez, manager of MarViva's Science Department explains:

The Science Department is the basis of all decisions we make. We always have to be sure that what we say or what we do is based on science -- on data. For MarViva, and the whole fisheries management world, it's a challenge to bring in technological tools. It's really hard to manage fisheries, especially in Costa Rica, where the department in charge isn't too efficient... But if we don't have this data, it's just greenwashing.

Data-intensive mission

MarViva, established about 20 years ago, focuses on preventing ocean contamination, promoting the responsible consumption of fish, and responsible marine management. All three areas of focus require the collection and use of solid data.

Creating a sustainable fishing market is especially data-intensive. Sanchez says:

It's really important to have technological tools that help us to capture all the data that we need to be sure that the responsible fishing value chains are in compliance with our criteria and our protocols... When you commit to responsible fishing practices, it's not just receiving the fish and going through the processing phases. You have to stop and take data.

Corporate entities that buy fish from the Eastern Tropical Pacific can apply for voluntary certification from MarViva, indicating that the fish they purchase is sourced and processed in a responsible way. Every step of the process, from catching the fish to storing it, cleaning it and packaging it, has to meet certain standards.

Verifying this process is harder than it sounds, Sanchez explains. First of all, there are several data points to collect. That currently includes data such as the fish species, its scientific name, its size and maturity, the type of fishing gear used, the temperature of the beach, which collection center it is sent to, the temperature at which the fish is stored and the temperature at which it is shipped.

Simpler data input and retrieval

MarViva has been working with Hakkoda to build a new version of its app — one that simplifies data input for fishermen, their commercial buyers, and everyone in between. The data is stored in Snowflake, making it easier for MarViva scientists and staffers to use. Sanchez explains why data storage and retrieval is key:

The other thing that's really important for us is the efficiency and ability to translate the information from one side to the other in the same value chain. With the last [version of our] app, we had a lot of problems. Users didn't receive the information, and then we had to check where the information was, and it was not easy to look up this information in the app.

In addition to finalizing the app, Hakkoda is helping MarViva build a dashboard it can use to study its data, creating graphs and statistical analysis with the information it collects. Sanchez says:

This makes it easier for us to verify the criteria. This is something that we had to do before with an Excel document, step by step. With this new app, we have the possibility to have an automatic dashboard that we are really excited about.

Learning experience

Currently, MarViva is piloting the app in Costa Rica, where it has five major corporate buyers using its certification process, including supermarkets, a hotel and another enterprise. The goal is to expand the app's use into markets in Colombia and Panama as well.

Hakkoda donated its data science and data engineering skills to help MarViva revamp its data collection process. The time-intensive process has been a learning experience for both sides, Sanchez says:

This has been a year-long process, where they had to learn about fishing, and what data we need, and why this information is important. Then we had a field trip to the collection centers so they could understand how the center works... because they didn't understand a lot of terms and definitions that we use. Then we have had a lot of working sessions together, mostly calls, to review the information or review advances of the app to see if everything was okay or if they needed to change something.

It's been an interesting process because we don't know a lot about technology tools, and they don't know a lot about fishing and oceans.

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