Wireless Solutions for Artisanal Marine Fishermen in India

Sep 18, 2020 10:00 AM ET

For generations, artisanal, or small-scale, marine fishermen in India’s coastal communities earned their livelihoods by relying on their traditional knowledge of the sea and fishing grounds. All that changed with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The disaster altered the sea’s conditions, rendering the fisherfolk’s traditional knowledge obsolete. Fishers had difficulty judging when it was safe to venture out to sea. They sometimes had trouble finding the best places to fish. And, because the International Border Line between the state of Tamil Nadu and the country of Sri Lanka is not marked, it was possible for fishers to accidentally cross the line and face penalties under Sri Lankan law.

With help from Wireless Reach, in collaboration with the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, a new generation of fishers are using wireless technology to earn their livelihoods in a safer and more profitable manner.

The Fisher Friend mobile application provides critical information about weather and ocean conditions up to 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from shore. The app also provides disaster alerts and Potential Fishing Zones (PFZ) Advisories, enabling the fisherman to determine when it's safe to sail, the best places to fish and which type of fishing gear to take with them.

The app leverages the smartphone’s GPS feature to map the coordinates of PFZ Advisories, enabling the fishermen to chart the shortest course to the PFZ and back to their harbors, thereby saving fuel and time. If fishermen are stranded at sea, they can use the GPS feature to communicate their location to the Coast Guard and friends who can navigate to the location to rescue them.

The app alerts the fishermen of Tamil Nadu when they’re approaching the international border of Sri Lanka, enabling them to change course and avoid crossing the border.

Fisher Friend has made an impact:

  • More than 50,000 fishermen across the east and west coasts in 10 states of India have used the Fisher Friend mobile app.
  • In 2019, the Fisher Friend app communicated alerts about the dangerous Okhi cyclone, helping save the lives of over 400 fishers in Kanyakumari village of Tamil Nadu state.
  • The Fisheries departments of India, the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services have recognized the benefits of this app and are actively collaborating with the program to enhance its impact and reach.
  • Many fishermen avoided harm to themselves and damage to their boats and fishing gear by avoiding dangerous sea conditions communicated to them via the app.
  • Fishermen who heeded the PFZ Advisories provided through the app reported an improvement in their incomes, on average, by more than US $2,000. PFZ Advisories have also motivated fishermen to switch from environmentally degrading bottom trawl fishing to fishing in the open ocean, away from the sea floor.