Keeping fishermen on track

The Fisher Friend app gives fishermen alerts on weather, potential fishing zones and maritime boundaries


Nancy Anabel, project director at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, says the project has assisted 40 fishermen who have been caught in a cyclone or drifted due to heavy currents. Photo: SaiSen/Mint
Nancy Anabel, project director at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, says the project has assisted 40 fishermen who have been caught in a cyclone or drifted due to heavy currents. Photo: SaiSen/Mint

The capture and imprisonment of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy when they cross the international maritime border is a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu.

The Fisher Friend mobile application has come to the rescue of the fishermen by sending out an alert 5km in radius of the international line so that they are aware and do not cross it. More importantly, the application provides a host of other beneficial services such as weather forecast, potential fishing zones, disaster alerts regarding cyclone and tsunami to fishermen whose livelihood is linked to the sea.

The one-year-old application has been developed in a multi-partnership model with M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation being the lead implementation agency along with Qualcomm Wireless Reach, the funding agency, and Tata Consultancy Services.

After incorporating feedback from fishermen, the pilot project was started in November 2013 by providing 85 fishermen with handsets on a rotation basis in Krishna and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh, and seven coastal districts of Tamil Nadu—Kanyakumari, Ramanathapuram, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Chennai and Puducherry. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation works closely with village council chiefs in these districts.

The advantage is that the global positioning system (GPS) enables the fishermen to plot a course to the potential fishing area. A fisherman can plot his course from any location by using stand-alone GPS, which can work without a mobile network, said Nancy Anabel, project director at the foundation.

“We have been able to help close to 40 fishermen who have been caught in a cyclone or drifted due to heavy currents because of the stand-alone GPS as they could send messages of their exact location which helped the Indian coast guard to rescue them,” she said.

The Fisher Friend mobile application runs on the Android operating system and is distributed to fishermen for free. It can be easily installed by copying the application in the mobile phone. A first-time registration is done through a voice-based verification, which enables the activation of a particular mobile number. The application is also available in English but the fishermen use the Tamil or Telugu service.

Registration helps save the location details of the fishermen with options for selection of the fish landing centre in respect to the district to which they belong to. This comes handy to get information on potential fishing zones, ocean state forecasting, which provides wind speed and directions, wave height and weather updates for a specific location.

“The added feature of providing the prevailing market price for fishes to the fishermen even before landing on the shore helps the decide the price for his catch and not the price demanded by fish traders,” said Anabel.

“Fishermen have also given us a feedback that potential fishing zones have helped double their catch and therefore revenues which also saves fuel cost and time,” explained the 41-year-old, who has a postgraduate degree in social work from the Madurai Institute of Social Sciences.

The use of various services is tracked using Google Analytics by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Google Analytics provides detailed information on the service most used. During the pilot study, it was found that ocean state forecasting was most popular among fishermen followed by stand-alone map services and potential fishing zone.

Mobile phone penetration in rural India has revolutionized information access as also connectivity between people, said Anabel, who has worked as a training expert at the Danida Water and Sanitation project at Villupuram and as a social adviser for the European Union-sponsored Tank Rehabilitation Management Project in Puducherry.

Bharti Airtel Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd are two service providers whose network is available till 12 nautical miles (22km) in the sea where small fishing boats and trawlers are used for fishing, while deep fishing happens in 300 nautical miles, she said.

The foundation has been using various information and communication technologies in the dissemination of real-time need-based and demand- driven information and knowledge to the rural community to improve their lives and livelihoods. Even a decade ago, the Chennai-based foundation started giving information on wave height, direction and wind speed using traditional methods through public address systems and notice boards. “The success of the pilot project has made us look at expanding this mobile application to 13 coastal states in the country in a phased manner which will happen in a couple of months,” she said.

The major challenge in this application is connectivity beyond 12 nautical miles, and handsets will have to support local languages and have the Android 4 version.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth awards.

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