Technology Eyed To Track Recreational Shellfish Harvest

By: Tim Wood

Recreational shellfishing along the Morris Island causeway. Officials are investigating using technology to keep track of the recreational harvest. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Last year, a total of 2,415 recreational shellfish permits were issued to residents, nonresidents and seniors. The permit sales generated nearly $120,000 in revenue, but the amount of shellfish harvested by those folks is a big question mark.

While commercial shellfishermen are mandated to report their catch by state law, recreational shellfishers reporting is voluntary.

“Some people are very diligent, but for the most part people forget,” said Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne.

Even if just a portion of recreational permit holders reach their weekly limit of 12 quarts, that can be a significant amount of shellfish. “I would say it's extremely under reported,” she said.

In order to get a better handle on the figures to help better manage the town's shellfish resources, Gagne hopes to develop a web-based electronic reporting system which deputies can access on smartphones and tables in the field.

Currently, when deputy shellfish wardens check the catch of recreational permit holders, they record the amount of clam, scallops, oysters or other species in their basket. Those numbers don't necessarily reflect a permit holder's total harvest; depending on the time of day, they may dig more or call it quits. And there isn't a consistent system for checking recreational shellfishers' catches.

“It's a real guessing game,” she said.

The system, including an app, that Gagne is working to develop allows shellfish deputies to enter the harvest of a permit holder in real time. Those numbers would be saved on a server and be available to all deputies. When a deputy again checks that permit holder, the harvest would be added to the previous number. It would reset after a week, but store all of the data. The system would not only help develop a better annual total of the recreational shellfish harvest, but provide better trackng of each permit holders' weekly catch, Gagne said.

“Any and all of that kind of data is a benefit for managing a natural resource,” she said.

For example, more accurate numbers would allow the department to determine what areas should be seeded more heavily.

Gagne said she's had some discussions with Orkiv Retail Solutions, a software developer recommended by shellfish deputy Mark Simonitsch, who used the company to develop an app for bee keepers. The interface and data gathering functions are not complicated, and the company specializes in user-friendly interfaces, she said. The idea is to have wardens have the app on their smartphone or tablet and also be able to enter the information over the web from a computer.

Preliminary figures for development of the system are $10,000 to $12,000, Gagne said; there would also be regular maintenance fees. She's hoping that outside funding and grants can be secured to cover the costs. There is interest at the program from the Barnstable County Extension, and she'll talk about it at the September meeting ofr the Massachuetts Shellfish Officers Association, of which she serves on the board of directors.

If development of the app goes forward, Gagne said she's also like to find funding to purchase waterproof smartphones or tablets for deputy wardens.

If funding can be found, the app can be developed fairly quickly, she said. They've already developed a couple of mockups of how it would look.

“We thought that would be a good way to have this to present when we're out lookikng for grant funding,” Gagne said. If Chatham, which has many more recreational permit holders than most coastal Massachusetts communities – Harwich, for instance, sold just about 400 recreational permits last year – can pilot the program, other towns, and the state, would be interested, she believes.

“This is something that all fisheries managers have issues with,” she said of tracking recreation shellfish harvests.