With fishmongers and wholesalers passing off one third of catches as more expensive species, rampant fish fraud is preventing governments from accurately monitoring fish populations. Fishazam, an app born out of a US State Department hackathon, makes it easy for shoppers and restauranteurs to identify the species and source of a fillet. Fishazam uses a version of the song-identifying app Shazam’s alogorithm to recognise molecular patterns.
Results & Impact
With Fishazam, developers want to put an end to fish fraud, which undermines sustainable fishing and threatens endangered species. The app won the London Fishackathon, an annual competition put on by the US State Department, in which technologists and coders in 43 cities crowdsource solutions to sustainability in the fishing industry. The founders are currently seeking funding
Fishazam, US State Department
By attaching an infrared spectrometer to a mobile phone, Fishazam can identify the molecular composition of a fish with infrared waves. Users simply hover their phone over a fillet, and the app will identify its species and source. The app uses a version of song-identifying app Shazam's algorithm
Cost & Value
One of the biggest challenges for Fishazam's developers was building a tool that is small and inexpensive enough for the general public to use. The founders were able to build a version using open source software, which, when connected to a mobile phone with Bluetooth, can scan a fillet and send an image called a spectrogram to the phone
Developers have built an easy-to-use app that could put an end to fish fraud, a widespread practice that undermines sustainable fishing and threatens endangered species.
Fishers, wholesalers or fishmongers mislabel one in three fish, passing off cheaper varieties as more expensive, sustainably sourced fish, according to research by ocean conservation group Oceana. Fish fraud makes it impossible for governments to track fish populations, because they can’t rely on sales data to track which populations are healthy.
The Fishazam app was born out of Fishackathon, an annual competition put on by the US State Department, in which technologists and coders crowdsource solutions to sustainability in the fishing industry. Fishackathon took place in 43 cities on six continents, and Fishazam developers Yassine Santissi and Sam Mbale won the London hackathon in April 2016.
“Fishazam could be huge. It could be a game changer. And it came out of one weekend. When you’re able to bring the private sector, you also bring in their innovation, their creativity, which we just don’t have in government. And we can’t contract for creativity,” said James Thompson, the Director for Innovation at the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, which ran the hackathons.
By attaching an infrared spectrometer to a mobile phone, Fishazam can determine the molecular composition of a fish with pattern recognition technology. Users simply hover their phone over a fillet, and the app will identify its species and source.
“It would be good to create an incentive to fish sustainably. 75% of global waters are international, not under the purview of a single country, and so regulation doesn’t really work. We’re trying to use a basic economic incentive, people’s self-interest, like, ‘I don’t want to be cheated,’” said Santissi.
Fishing sustainably is when specifies are caught or harvested at a rate that does not threaten their ability to maintain a healthy population. It’s more expensive and time-consuming to fish sustainably, so when cheaper fillets are mislabelled as such it undermines fisheries who prioritise environmentally friendly practices.
Other projects that were built out of Fishackathon include how to prevent invasive species spawning in the Great Lakes or stop lost nets from killing fish to no purpose (something known as ghost fishing, said to be responsible for around 30% of global catches).
One of the biggest challenges for Santissi and Mbale was building a tool small and inexpensive enough for the general public to use, as professional infrared spectrometers cost thousands of dollars. Santissi and Mbale were able to build a version using open source software, which, when connected to a mobile phone with Bluetooth, can scan a fillet and send an image called a spectrogram to the phone.
The developers plan to build a catalogue of photographic analyses of species for use by restaurants, fishmongers and governments, as well as a service that refers users to reliable fish markets.
(Picture credit: Flickr/flaxman)