Robinson's crusade steers industry towards the paperless boat

The need to complete a multitude of catch data forms in the Coorong fishery has led Tom Robinson to initiate the new Deckhand app.
Photo: Brad Collis

By Ilaria Catizone

Every time Tom Robinson’s team of harvesters goes fishing, they have to fill out a number of different government forms by hand, sometimes with similar information.

As a member of the Marine Stewardship Council-certified Lakes and Coorong Fishery of South Australia, he appreciates the importance of gathering fishing data and accurately reporting to authorities, but he felt there had to be a more efficient system. So he developed Deckhand.

Using his contacts from a previous career in advertising, Tom Robinson teamed up with software developer Simon Dick and programmer Vaan Lanko to develop an application that would allow fishers to record and submit their statutory catch-and-effort data automatically, saving time and increasing accuracy.

The new app Deckhand is being designed and developed to allow fishers to record – and hopefully soon submit – their statutory catch and effort data electronically.

“We’ve worked out that the only group with worse handwriting than doctors is fishers,” jokes Tom Robinson. “So handwritten forms submitted to governments can be misread or have to be sent back to the fisher for clarification.”

This is frustrating and time consuming for all involved, yet it can be easily solved through electronic data entry. Deckhand also solves other problems associated with manual data collection, such as incomplete logging. The app will not shut down until all fields are completed, so fishers are instantly reminded of missing information.

The app works as an electronic logbook and is available for iPad, iPad mini and iPhone. It takes advantage of the inbuilt GPS function of the devices, providing more accurate and detailed data that can be reviewed to identify trends. It also has the potential to inform future government decisions, such as setting quotas. Deckhand can be sourced directly from the developers.

Unfortunately, at this stage governments are not yet ready to receive electronic data like that collected by Deckhand, but they have made this a priority for the near future. Governments recognise the importance of the initiative, which has been supported by the Australian Government and the FRDC, alongside Commercialisation Australia and the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council.

While state, territory and Commonwealth governments prepare to receive electronic data from fishers, Tom Robinson is trying to get them to accept PDF print-outs of the information collected by Deckhand. Until then, the app can only be used as a business management tool by individual fishers, who can generate catch heat maps and identify the most productive areas over several seasons.

This is one of James Paratore’s favourite features of the app. He is a rocklobster fisher from Western Australia and helped review the first version of Deckhand.

“This app will not just be great for reducing paperwork, it also gives us a chance to analyse our own data and learn from it,” he says.

To provide information for his future fishing trips, James Paratore uses Deckhand to log catch-per-trap or catch-per-day data.

“This will be even more useful once the information can be sent to governments and collated to create a whole industry picture,” he says.

Deckhand took two years to develop to this point and is still being improved. Tom Robinson is keen to find more fishers willing to test the app and provide feedback, which will make it even more useful for fishers. 

More information

Tom Robinson, 0427 262 553

Deckhand app