A new smartphone app is taking citizen science to the sea. The Skipper Science app enables Alaskan commercial fishermen to document abnormalities they notice while working on the water. During summer 2021, the first year the app was in action, fishermen logged sea turtle sightings, strange bird behavior, unusual weather, and sea lice found on salmon.

Over time the data set can become a valuable tool to help inform scientists and policy makers. “It’s such a wealth of potential information and knowledge that hasn’t been collected very well or in any kind of way that is easily accessible for our fisheries,” says Lauren Divine, a conservation scientist with the Tribal Government of St. Paul. The app is a spinoff of the Indigenous Sentinels Network, a tool developed by the Tribal Government of St. Paul and now used by several other Alaska tribes. It allows tribal members to input environmental observations and share that knowledge with federal agencies that co-manage natural resources. The Tribal Government of St. Paul teamed up with numerous organizations, including Salmon State, to launch Skipper Science. 

In the future, Skipper Science could be used to collect key ocean metrics including salinity data, temperature, and pH.

One hundred fishermen signed up for the app during its first year in use. Divine says the high turnout shows that fishermen are interested in being good stewards of the environment and want to share their knowledge with policy makers. “It addresses really fundamental core needs of a whole community of fishermen and gives them a voice in decision making, but you have to use the app and be part of the community to have that kind of power. It takes numbers and it takes participation, so it’s a matter of getting everyone on board and keeping everyone on board,” Divine says.


Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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