By: Cari Martin
On August 3, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency dedicated to the conservation of animal and plant species and their habitats, teamed up with the app company FishBrain to launch a crowd-sourced data collection for protected animal and fish species across the country.[i] FishBrain is a community-based fishing app and social network through which anglers can communicate with other anglers, as well as forecast fishing success in certain areas.[ii] FWS worked with FishBrain to add a feature that enables app users to identify and log sightings of about fifty threatened, endangered, and candidate species while out on regular fishing trips.[iii] The new feature’s purpose is to collect data that will help conservationists and academics better understand and conserve these listed species and their habitats.[iv]
To create the list of species included in the app’s new logging feature, FWS searched all occurrences of threatened and endangered species near major bodies of water (e.g. streams, rivers, lakes, and creeks).[v] Generally, a species is considered threatened or endangered only if the FWS has listed the species as such under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA).[vi] The ESA was enacted to protect species from extinction and to protect the ecosystems in which they exist.[vii] To be considered “endangered,” a species must be “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”[viii] A “threatened” species is one that will likely become endangered in the “foreseeable future.”[ix]
The next step in creating the FishBrain species list was to further narrow the initial search, which resulted in millions of water-dependent species. FWS focused on larger bodies of water and limited the species to those that are most likely to be encountered by anglers and others in the fishing community.[x] The finalized list included in FishBrain contains protected animals listed under both the ESA and individual state requirements, in addition to candidate species that meet ESA listing criteria but have not been officially categorized as endangered or threatened.[xi]
While the success of FWS’s new feature on FishBrain depends upon user participation—i.e. taking the time to log sightings of listed species—it speaks to the participatory nature of conservation in general. Without the help of willing citizens in efforts to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats, agencies like FWS would face a whale of an undertaking. In the end, for sportsmen and women like anglers, whose hobby depends on the health of aquatic ecosystems, it is truly in their best interest to contribute to conservation efforts in any way possible—even if it is simply providing a single data point while using a mobile app. FishBrain is just one example of the ways in which government agencies can use technology and social networking to engage communities in protecting and conserving our nation’s natural resources. What will they think of next?
[i] A Conservational Audit of U.S. Rivers, FishBrain, https://www.fishbrain.com/a-conservational-audit-of-us-rivers.html (last visited Aug. 31, 2015) [hereinafter Conservational Audit].
[ii] FishBrain – Fishing Forecast, Google Play, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fishbrain.app (last updated Aug. 29, 2015).
[iii] FishBrain and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partner to Create App-powered Citizen Science Engagement Opportunity Tracking Endangered Species, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=F3DABD6D-5056-AF00-5B1BA898C8311274 (last modified Aug. 3, 2015) [hereinafter FWS Press Release].
[vi] 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544 (2006).
[vii] Id. § 1531(b).
[viii] Id. § 1532(6).
[ix] Id. § 1532(20).
[x] FWS Press Release, supra note iii.
[xi] Id. See also Conservational Audit, supra note i.