One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: CSIRO knows them all
By Steve GartnerMarch 13th, 2013
From identifying what’s on the end of your fishing line, to finding out which fishes occur in your local waters, FishMap has the answers.
13 March 2013
Glen Paul: G’day, and welcome to CSIROpod. I’m Glen Paul. Unless you’re an expert, identifying an unusual looking fish on the end of your line means rummaging about in your bait and tackle box for your old Angler’s Guide, then scrolling through chapters and appendixes trying to find a matching fish. To simplify the process CSIRO has developed a new free online mapping tool that allows anyone interested in fish to discover which species occur at any location or depth throughout the marine waters of Australia.
FishMap, as it’s called, is the only resource of its kind in the world that covers virtually all species of marine fish found in the marine waters of an entire continent. Joining me on the line is Daniel Gledhill from CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship. Just how many fish species are there in the marine waters of Australia?
Daniel Gledhill: Well the number of species we’ve covered with this tool is just over 4,500, and they’re the species found in the waters over the Continental Shelf and the Continental Slope around the continent.
Glen Paul: Well I can see then why this tool would be very useful to keep tabs on all those fish, but why primarily did you develop it?
Daniel Gledhill: Well as you’ve alluded to, the diversity that we have here makes it very difficult for people to get a handle on species that are a bit unusual. Things that we see regularly are quite easy, but as soon as someone catches something that’s a little off the beaten track, so to speak, it becomes very difficult to even know what species might be in the area.
Glen Paul: So who do you have in mind as users of the map?
Daniel Gledhill: We’ve tried to aim at anglers and divers, through to citizen scientists and scientists as well. There are guidebooks out there, many are excellent resources, but the majority are out of date, and there is no one resource for the whole country. And so if you’ve pulled up something that you don’t recognise, it’s very difficult to know where to start.
Glen Paul: And just on that, where has all the data come from, and how accurate is it?
Daniel Gledhill: Well the data dates back to projects started a number of decades ago. This has been a long process doing this sort of detail for 4,500 species, as you can imagine it does take a little bit of time, and also chasing down the photographs. Over 95 per cent of species depicted also have an image or an illustration.
We’ve really tried hard to have an image in there to assist people with the identification. Obviously an image will only get you so far, and so by doing the search it will give you a list of candidates against which you must compare what you’ve caught.
Glen Paul: And how much information does it have on a particular species? For example, would it include toxicity, so people would avoid eating say a toadfish?
Daniel Gledhill: So this isn’t a one stop shop in the way that a lot of guidebooks might be. What we’ve started with here is a broad coverage of the fauna, and then later we’ll add some detail. But we’re not trying to compete directly with a guidebook, we’re not trying to replace a guidebook, this is relying on the spatial search mechanism. So a guidebook won’t necessarily tell you what might occur in that area, so here we can search by depth, we can search by whether you’re fishing on the bottom or in the water column, and you can also search by individual families.
For example, there’s 40 something species of flathead in Australia, many guidebooks won’t have all those species, I can guarantee it, and so if you catch one that you don’t recognise, there’s no starting point for the average user to get in there and find additional species. And another big aspect of this aimed more at the scientific community, is when you go to an area you might be undertaking fieldwork, and with this tool you can put in your locality and you can then go into the field pre-armed with a list of species that might occur in the area of interest, and this list will have the current scientific name, the current common name, and then also you’ve got the image information there as well, which does reduce the amount of replication of out of date names, and also incorrect names that we see in some datasets.
Glen Paul: Hmm. And how interactive is it, and will it be? Is there an opportunity for scientists or anglers to have some input?
Daniel Gledhill: There’s been a lot of input from scientists around the country, and even internationally, leading to the data that sits behind the tool, and we’ll continue to work with scientists to build on that. At the moment we don’t have the level of interaction where we’re getting people to input their own information. What we would like to see down the track is people being able to logon and have their own account, and perhaps if you’re doing a study on a particular area you could start creating your own formal list of things that you’ve already encountered.
Glen Paul: So it’s a good supplement to a fishing guidebook, but how does it go against the other fish mapping software that’s available on the market; what’s the difference there?
Daniel Gledhill: For Australia there is no single source for all the known species occurring over the Continental Shelf and Slope, where you can go to any location around the country and pull up that list of species that might occur in that area. So it really is a very unique tool, and we’re very excited to have been able to pull all this information together.
Glen Paul: And how often will it be updated?
Daniel Gledhill: It needs to be an ongoing process. As you’d be aware species are discovered quite regularly and there’s always a bit of a delay as these are described, and then there’s a process of the names making their way into databases such as this, so there will need to be an ongoing effort. Even just additions to the tool, we’ve got quite a long wish list of things that we would like to add to the tool, and so we need to prioritise that and work through that list, and come up with a plan to ensure that we can keep making this bigger and better.
Glen Paul: Certainly. And FishMap is free, which is another big plus as well. Now it’s available on the Atlas of Living Australia website, and I’m guessing a Google search would be the easiest way for one to find it?
Daniel Gledhill: Indeed it will come up on a Google search, but people can go direct to fish.ala.org.au. And the ALA are a Federal Government initiative. They’ve been accessing data from museums right around the country, and so fish data and marine data is part of that. This tool I guess showcases some of the capability of making that data available to everyone, scientists and the community.
Glen Paul: And is there a FishMap App planned for this?
Daniel Gledhill: We would love to see this deployed as an App. At the moment it’s limited to where people obviously can get phone reception, so an App would solve that issue, where people could then take it out in the field to more remote places, and that would just increase the level of utility of the tool.
Glen Paul: Well, I’m hooked, to use a very bad pun. It certainly is going to make life easier though for the angler. Thank you very much for discussing it with me today, Daniel.
Daniel Gledhill: Thank you for having me.
Glen Paul: Daniel Gledhill. And to find out more about the research, or to follow us on other social media, just visit www.csiro.au.