[GIS] has increased the overall participation of the youth fishing program—almost doubled the participation from previous years. I attribute that directly to the ease and efficiency anglers have by uploading the data from wherever they are—on the shoreline, in their boat—they can take a minute in the app, hit submit, and be done.
GIS Dashboard Boosts R3 Initiative in Recreation Office
Connecticut is rich with fishing opportunities from game fish and panfish found in her lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams to the diversity of saltwater species found in Long Island Sound. In fact, the world record striped bass was caught in 2011 off of the town of Westbrook’s coast. No matter where your “pin” is within CT, great fishing is no more than a short navigation away. Novice and veteran anglers from across the country have an adventure waiting for them in Connecticut’s prized and serene waters. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is a "super agency" and as such is charged with conserving, improving and protecting the natural resources and the environment of the state of Connecticut, as well as making cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy available for the people and businesses of the state. Within the agency is the Fisheries Division with the charge to provide high-quality fishing opportunities. One strategy administered by DEEP is the angler recognition program, a program that promotes outdoor recreation and education.
Started in 1965, DEEP’s trophy fish award program has always been a draw for anglers of all skill levels. While the original intent of this program was to gather information from anglers about catches of “big fish,” which may have eluded the biologists when performing fish community surveys, the program has expanded to recognize angler accomplishment in several ways. Anglers are now recognized for catching a trophy-size fish, their personal biggest fish, their first fish, and more. Over the years, the program has expanded and evolved to stay current with changing angler preferences and behaviors. In 2012, the agency began a youth fishing passport program, a free license-like program for children 15 years or younger. A main draw of the program is the yearlong fishing challenge, where participants are encouraged to catch 22 different species of fish, which was expanded to 33 in 2023. The four youth anglers with the greatest number of species win a prize pack of fishing-related merch. The expansion of the youth fishing program was helpful particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fishing and outdoor recreation became more attractive.
Nationally declining trends in outdoor recreation also meant decreases in both the innate and economic benefits these activities provide to local economies. To combat this, organizations are seeking solutions to help recruit, retain, and reactivate interest in outdoor recreation—an initiative known nationally as R3. DEEP was wrestling with the same challenge, and the R3 initiative gave a boost to outdoor recreation organizations.
In the past, the angler programs saw a limited participation pool, with the same people entering the contest year after year. The program lacked the healthy, competitive spirit to encourage participation because there wasn’t a good way to display information for the award categories. The public expected an intuitive way to participate and see how they were doing compared to other participants. “There was no real way for us to show results in real time, like people want to know, ‘How am I doing compared to others who are doing the challenge?’” said Mike Beauchene, education and outreach programs supervisor.
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)
DEEP experienced the same anglers submitting data about their catches and wanted to grow the number of participants in its fishing programs. But inefficient and time-consuming paper-based systems were difficult to easily share.
Updating to a GIS implementation with ArcGIS Survey 123 allowed participants to easily upload fishing catch data while providing DEEP staff with an easy way to verify and share it in a public dashboard.
The GIS application helped increase participation in the youth fishing passport program by doubling it from previous years and boosting participation in the general trophy fish award program.
Until 2021, the fishing programs' applications were largely paper based, time-consuming, and inefficient for the DEEP staff. Anglers would catch a fish, take a picture of it, get the picture printed, and mail the picture to the agency to validate and verify the entry into a specific award category. Depending on if the fish was caught in fresh- or saltwater, the photo had to be mailed to the correct staff at DEEP because there were staff responsible for the different species of fish. DEEP staff then had to verify the photos, collect information, put them in the correct award category, and notify the angler. This method was cumbersome, and captured information quickly became outdated, which became barriers for potential anglers to join the program.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity for the agency to update its technology for the fishing programs to a modern, more efficient way to communicate angler data to the public and encourage more participation in recreation programs.
DEEP staff did not have to develop an elaborate custom solution to modernize their angler recognition program. Partnering with the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services (DAS), Bureau of Information Technology Solutions (BITS), they came up with a simple and elegant design that leveraged their existing investment in geographic information system (GIS) technology. With GIS, staff were able to quickly configure a fully cloud-based, digital submission and public dashboard. That meant the same technology that supports a variety of other mission-critical objectives for DEEP was also able to support its R3 goals.
No longer a paper-based process, ArcGIS Survey123 allows anglers to quickly fill out the appropriate fields with demographic information, fish species, weight, and other attributes while automatically capturing the location of the catch. The same form is used to upload photos of their catch and submit it with a one-button push. After an angler submits an entry, staff at DEEP get an automated email that alerts them to a new entry that requires verification. Staff can access a central web application to verify the submission, check for legitimacy, and, once verified, the data is able to be viewed on the public-facing dashboard.
DEEP, like many organizations that oversee outdoor recreation initiatives, was struggling to combat a declining interest in outdoor recreation. As part of a nationwide effort to recruit, retain, and reactivate outdoor enthusiasts, DEEP published its 2022 angler R3 plan. One of the main goals of DEEP’s angler R3 plan was focused on retention efforts to increase angler acknowledgement and recognition. The fishing programs are intimate components of these efforts, so modernizing how they are implemented and tracked solved a variety of challenges.
Specifically, for the youth fishing challenge, the dashboard has helped to bring more excitement for anglers. In 2022, the winner of the youth fishing challenge caught all 22 species that the challenge required—the first that has happened in the program’s history. “Having [access] to this dashboard live helps create the feeling of an activity and a sport. [GIS] has increased the overall participation in the youth fishing program—almost doubled the participation from previous years. I attribute that directly to the ease and efficiency anglers have by uploading the data from wherever they are—on the shoreline, in their boat—they can take a minute in the app, hit submit, and be done,” said Beauchene.
DEEP’s GIS implementation helped increase participation in the youth angler programs by nearly 50 percent. “The days of riding your bike down to the local pond and park to go fishing have gone by the wayside, and this connects so that kids spend time with their families at the local fishing spots,” said Beauchene. Additionally, DEEP scientists and biologists in the office also have more access to real-time data coming from participants. Biologists can see what fish are where, which helps them in their ecological and biodiversity goals. “Anytime you can get away from a manual, paper-based system, you save time, reduce transcription errors, and increase efficiency by putting more time into data analysis and policy change,” said Beauchene.
Implementing a GIS solution for DEEP led to significant improvements in the angler experience, greater participation in the sport, and easier administration and usability for DEEP staff. Their implementation of a simple, elegant GIS solution is an easy way for other outdoor recreation organizations to boost their angler R3 goals.