Nonprofit goes online to fund research project

An American nonprofit regional conservation group has turned to an online crowdsourcing initiative to help fund new research that could lead to a better way for fishermen off the U.S. Gulf Coast to reduce bycatch without impacting their business.

Gulf Wild, a group based in Florida, has turned to IndieGogo for help, with 42 days remaining on its call for visitors to the online crowdfunding site to contribute. The goal is to raise USD 45,000, according to Tj Tate (pictured), Gulf Wild’s director of sustainability.

The money, she said, will contribute to an ongoing research project on weak-hook longline fishing. Right now, she said, the Miss Ruby, a grouper fishing boat based in Medeira Beach, Fla., has been using the hooks with great success.

Jason Velacruz, Gulf Wild’s executive director and VP of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, is the boat’s owner, and has been testing the weak-hook system for a little over a year and a half now. He said he was concerned with fishermen like his grouper longline crew pulling in large sharks or large spawning male fish, neither of which was good for the environment or the fishing business. Switching to the smaller-hook system, he said, has worked out well.

“Ever since we started using the smaller hooks, we don’t catch the bigger sharks,” he said.

While it meant a change to the gear, Velacruz said the costs were “reasonable,” and the catch ratios are pretty much the same. If other fishermen can use the gear with similar results, he said he would recommend widespread adoption.

“I don’t see a negative,” he said.

Tate said Velacruz’s success is a great proof-of-concept, but to get industry-wide support will take more than a single boat with anecdotal evidence.

“Just one boat, I don’t consider that a baseline data,” she said.

It would be nice, Tate said, to get seven boats — or more — to try the hooks, but buying the hooks, educating the fishermen on how to use them and analyzing the data all take money, hence the crowdsourcing.

It’s been a bit of a tough sell, Tate said, since Gulf Wild already promotes sustainable seafood to buyers. This has inadvertently given the impression that Gulf Wild makes plenty of money off seafood sales and doesn’t need support but, Tate said, Gulf Wild is only a facilitator, and doesn’t get a cut of those profits.

“You’re not buying it from (Gulf Wild),” she said. “You’re buying it from a (supplier’s) warehouse.”

Prior to setting up the online call for contributions, Tate said using online communities like IndieGogo and KickStarter were “totally new to me,” but if it works out, she said, this may pave the way for future online campaigns for funding.


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