Bullbuster In Action:

How Fishermen Can Get Involved In The Citizen Science Movement

Author: Bullbuster Team

The Citizen Science Movement

Some Resources For Anglers Getting Involved With Citizen Science:

Everything You Need To Know About Fish Tagging

100 Tagging Programs You Can Get Involved With

How Tagging Data Of Fish Is Actually Used

Be sure to check out a new series on PBS about the citizen science movement, called The Crowd & The Cloud

Imagine a group of individuals from all ages and backgrounds- scientists, naturalists, teachers, retirees, children and their parents, working together to comb a swath of beach while snapping photos of different species of plants and animals on their smart phones. Together, they are collecting valuable information on the local biodiversity. This group is not simply imaginative, but an example of an expanding movement to empower members of the community and engage them in scientific research and conservation. Citizen science, or crowd-sourced science, is similar to other crowd-sourced and sharing economy platforms in that it involves the collection of data from many different sources.

 Citizen Science Taking Water Samples for Texas Sea Grant

A volunteer collects water samples to help monitor red tide, for the Texas Sea Grant (Photo Credit: Seth Patterson)

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science is defined as scientific research involving the collaboration of the general public and professional scientists, in various stages of operation from developing a scientific question to data collection, to data interpretation and analysis. It is seen as an opportunity for research institutions to include members of the community, reflect and respond to their environmental concerns, and to enhance public understanding of science. It is also an opportunity for scientists to achieve goals that may otherwise be too costly or time consuming. Ultimately, citizen science holds the potential to act as a chance for outreach and education, more transparency, and to connect all who interact with the local environment to develop more comprehensive solutions to our most pressing environmental concerns.

By creating opportunities for the general public to get involved in a scientific project, scientific literacy is enhanced; people may develop a better understanding of the environmental issues surrounding them and how their actions affect the environment. In turn, this new knowledge may motivate individuals to make positive changes to lessen their impact on the environment and perhaps even move towards advocacy and political action.  

Water Sampling for Biscayne Bay Water Watch
Testing Dissolved Oxygen in Water Sample with Biscayne Bay Water Watch (Photo credit: Julienne Beblo)
"[Citizen Science] is seen as an opportunity for research institutions to include members of the community, reflect and respond to their environmental concerns, and to enhance public understanding of science"

Citizen science is not a new concept, for example, the Audubon Society has hosted a crowd-sourced ‘Christmas Bird Count’ birdwatching event every Christmas day since 1900. However, modern technology is considered the main force in the movement’s increasing popularity because it has expanded access to data contribution. More and more, individuals have access to tools such as satellite navigation and the ability to tap into online databases and social networks, remotely. The introduction of the smartphone in 2007 and the ensuing progress of that technology entering everyday life have created this new opportunity for data collection and data analysis. Citizen science is important because it opens doors to large groups who can gather more information than any small research team would ever be capable of. More hands collecting information could broaden and deepen the scope of research needs, in various ways. For example, Project FeederWatch (PFW) was initially created in the late 1970’s to monitor birds at feeding stations in Ontario. The number of citizen scientists involved in PFW has increased from 119 in 1976 to over 15,000 participants each year to date. That is a 125-fold increase in participants supplying data. What started as a small backyard effort to monitor local birds became a massive Canadian project that led to successfully documenting declining species populations, potential causes of mortality, and tracking diseases, just to name a few.

"More hands collecting information could broaden and deepen the scope of research needs"

Many different types of citizen science projects exist, from simply identifying objects in archived photos online to going out, collecting and processing samples in the field. SciStarter and Zooniverse are two examples of search-engine platforms that offer "people-powered" projects, enabling you to join the most current projects that spark your interest. 

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Citizen Science in South Florida

Here in South Florida, the pulse of the city ebbs and flows with the tides of Biscayne Bay; it is vital to the health of our community. Biscayne Bay is home to one of the largest ports in the world, as well as the largest marine national park in the country. South Floridians enjoy the bay for boating, swimming, diving and snorkeling, and especially fishing. Therefore, it is important to keep the waterways that sustain us healthy, which can be achieved through the joint efforts of all parties of interest to monitor and maintain the physical and biological well-being of our local environment. One example of a citizen science project dedicated to the bay is Biscayne Bay Water Watch (BBWW), a program funded by Florida Sea Grant to manage water quality sampling sites in Biscayne through community-based volunteering. Monitoring the water quality in the bay not only provides the means for effective management but can also promote stewardship, and a sense of ownership and responsibility, for everyone. 

CARTHE Drift Card
Have you seen me? Scientists have released these cards into the Bay to study local tides and currents (Photo Credit: UM CARTHE)

Have you seen a drift card similar to this one? Perhaps floating on the water, or washed up on the beach? Scientists from the University of Miami Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon (CARTHE), an organization studying ocean currents, are in partnership with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science to better understand the local movement of marine pollution and oil through the Biscayne Bay Drift Card Study. The mission of the Bay Drift study is to supplement computer model information with observational data about local currents, to track and analyze where the trash comes from and where it ends up. The resulting information can lead to more viable management decisions and more effective responses to debris or oil spill events. These brightly colored, eco-friendly wooden drift cards have been released at several different locations in Biscayne Bay, to be picked up and recorded by the general public. This means the Bay Drift project is dependent on you! If you happen to come across one of the drifters, please record the date, time, and the location with a photo on Instagram using #BayDriftMiami or emailing the information to BayDriftMiami@gmail.com.

"It is important to keep the waterways that sustain us healthy, which can be achieved through the joint efforts of all parties of interest"

University of Miami Shark Research Center Citizen Science Tagging Program
The University of Miami's Shark Research Center offers opportunities for Citizen Scientists to get Involved (Photo Credit: UM SRC)

Questioning the Value of Non-Expert Sources

It is important to note, while crowdsourcing data like the two aforementioned examples is gaining popularity, some may question the value of data collected by non-experts. However, studies exist (such as See et al., 2013) that has found no significant different in the quality of data collected by experts and non-experts. There are also methods available to train and better qualify non-experts for data collection, as well as online data entry systems that can validate data in real time, to confirm non-expert observations. 

Citizen Scientists in Big Cypress
Participating in Citizen Science Projects is an Excellent Way to Explore your Local Natural Environment

What Should You Look for in a Citizen Science Project?

There are three different types of citizen science projects, defined by the level of public involvement in designing the study, collecting and interpreting data, drawing conclusions, and disseminating results: 

1) Contributory: The most common type of project, and one where the project model is designed and data interpreted exclusively by the research team. The role of the citizen scientists is that they contribute to the pool of data. 

2) Collaborative: A project that involves non-experts in the data collection and analysis/interpretation, but not in the initial design phases, results, or conclusion. 

3) Co-Created: Non-experts and members of the general public are incorporated in the project and contribute each step of the way. Few of these project currently exist, one such example is Gardenroots, from the University of Arizona. 

Young Citizen Scientists
Young Citizen Scientists at Work

Components of a Citizen Science Project to Consider: 

If you get more involved and become an experienced citizen scientist, you may start to pick up on the different pieces that make up an effective project. There are several components to be considered when defining a citizen science project, which are listed and broken down below: 

1. What is the question or goal? The most effective citizen science project is one that is explicitly question driven, versus one that simply involves data collection. A direct and succinct research goal can be the key to engaging participants for the long haul, especially for education and environmental awareness. It is also important to consider having educational and outreach goals as well, to increase the public's conceptual knowledge, their scientific process skills, perhaps their scientific thinking, and ultimately, to change behavior. 

2. What type of project will it be? Depending on the level of public engagement you are seeking, you may design your project to align with one of the three categories: contributory, collaborative, or co-created. 

REEF Citizen scientist
Citizen Scientist collects underwater data for REEF (Photo by: Ron Lucas)

3. Who will be the lead scientist(s) and/or expert(s)? The expert, or preferably team of experts, must be willing to work with non-experts and be conscious of the project's goals that may aim farther than their own realm of science- meaning, the implications the results may have on the community. Bringing scientists from different perspectives, and creating a cross-disciplinary team, allows for the coverage of a larger breadth of knowledge for the project. 

4. What sort of training will be involved? Providing training workshops is an effective way to reach a large group of people, yet training in smaller increments also allows for a more continuous interaction with the project designer, scientists, and citizens. Training resources should be made widely available. Also, too much technicality may seem daunting and discouraging for individuals not familiar to the scientific method. It is also crucial to make volunteers aware for potential bias in their data collection. 

5. How will data be collected and entered? Consider designing a system relatively simple and brief in duration. Using a web or mobile application can provide easy access for your participants to enter data. You must also think about the validity of the data you are collecting from non-experts- is there a way to validate that data? Or could it be easily corrected? Pilot testing can offer insight to what works and what does not. 

Citizen Scientists New Zealand
Engaging the Whole Family in Citizen Science Projects is a Great Way to Teach Environmental Stewardship

6. What will the data infrastructure look like? Once you have all of the information you are looking for, how will you interpret it, manage it, and make it accessible to the public? It may be challenging to find patterns within the noise of your potentially very large data set, especially if you have many unknowns in a large area. The number one analytical challenge in citizen science is controlling for sampling bias from non-experts (although the same should be considered for experts as well!). Ideally, you must maintain simplicity, attractiveness, and up-to-date, easy access to the project and the results. 

7. What is the geographic scope? The scope of your project depends on your research goals and realistically, your budget. You should also be open to make changes in the geographic design of your project based on availability of resources or changes in the environment, to name a few examples. 

8. What is the duration of the project? Do you research goals require long-term monitoring or are you focused on a more specific temporal event or scale? Again, funding also limits the duration of you project. Your very own citizen scientists, and their availability or interest in the project, will also affect the duration. 

REEF Lionfish Research Program
Reporting Invasive Lionfish Sitings to REEF or USGS can help Researchers and Managers Mitigate the in Invasion

9. Who is the intended audience? To truly be an effective citizen science project, your design must be inclusive and have well represented data ranging across all community and cultural forms. By engaging participants across boundaries, it is possible to pool a larger group of talent and experience, and address the overall community needs. However, you may not have the workforce to target the entire population of your community. Is there a way to find smaller representations within those groups? Social media is an important tool, and now an integral part, of a citizen science project, which you can use to your advantage to reach out to different members of your targeted audience. 

10. Where is the funding coming from? This is probably the most limiting factor in designing a citizen science project. Whether receiving a federal grant or private funding, it is necessary to be transparent about where your funding is coming from, because your project is technically public. You can also cut costs by employing the skills of those around you, especially by turning to your voluntary participant citizen scientists! 

Intertidal Citizen Science
Citizen Scientists Survey Intertidal Marine Life found on their Local Shoreline

Get Involved

If you are an avid fisherman who enjoys all that our natural marine environment has to offer, we highly encourage you to consider paying it forward by dedicating some time to volunteer with a local citizen science project. There are several resources available to you to get involved! 


University of Miami Shark Research Center: Participate in a public expedition working alongside scientists from UM to deploy and retrieve fishing gear, and collect samples from sharks that are caught and released.

University of Miami Rescue a Reef: Join UM researchers for a day trip supporting coral reef research and participating in the restoration of local Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) populations on Miami's coral reefs. 

Coral Restoration Foundation: This non-profit organization is dedicated to maintaining and restoring endangered coral species through coral nurseries and restoration programs. 

Zoo Miami Fishing Derby: Help improve native habitat quality by removing invasive fish species from local waterways. Zoo Miami Fishing Derby

A young Zoo Miami Fishing Derby Participant shows off his Catch!

Bay Drift Miami: Report sightings of Bay Drift cards and contribute to the study of local ocean currents and marine pollution distribution. 

Miami Waterkeeper: become a legal advocate, investigator, and scientist protecting your local waterways! Report pollution to MWK. 

University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural SciencesJoin the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project to help target and reduce sources of plastic pollution in the ocean. 

Florida State Park System: MacArthur Beach State Park recruits citizen scientists to help monitor its beaches during Loggerhead sea turtle nesting season. 

Citizen Science
A Group of Citizen Scientists help complete annual Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest Excavations to determine Hatch Rates and Survivorship

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): Get involved with FWC simply by sharing what you see while enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, or fishing. FWC resources include sightings reports, surveys, and specific hotlines. FWC's Tarpon Genetics Recapture project aims to track the movement of Tarpon through Florida's coastal and estuarine environments. Or, submit sightings of Horseshoe Crab mating to FWC's Horseshoe Crab Nest Monitoring here to help scientists track and protect important nesting grounds. 


Louisiana Cooperative Marine Fish Tagging Program: Help 'Tag Louisiana' collect valuable mark and recapture information on important fisheries species, such as redfish, trout, and snapper. The data they collect contributes to the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife management decisions process. 

Louisiana Bucket Brigade: LABB is a group dedicated to environmental health and justice. They are devoted to protecting communities in proximity to the state's chemical plants and oil refineries through a public, grassroots collection of air samples and reports. Help protect your community from industrial pollution! 

You can also get involved with the Louisiana Bird Resource Office, in collaboration with the American Birding Association and the National Audubon Society, by becoming a volunteer bird watcher. Such long-term survey and monitoring systems for coastal shorebirds and waterbirds can provide important population and habitat-use information, that can be used to address the most pressing conservation needs for these species. 


Texas A&M University Corpus Christi Harte Research Institute: Help Fisheries and Ocean Health's Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation by reporting shark tags or report lionfish.   

Shark Research with CSSC
CSSC has Developed and On-going project dedicated to studying the abundance and distribution of sharks, apex predators that are vital to healthy reef habitat

Texas Invasives: The Invaders of Texas Program trains volunteer citizen scientists to track invasive species in their local areas. Detecting and mitigating exotic species invasion is important to avoid detriment to Texas' native landscape. 

Good Water Master Nautralists: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Texas Parks & WildlifeTexas Parks & Wildlife in cooperation developed the Good Water Master Naturalist program, to include several different Citizen Science Projects. Examples include several Birding projects, the Texas Amphibian Watch, the Texas Nature Trackers, and the Texas Mussel Watch.   

Audubon Texas: Texas has one of the most bio-diverse coastlines, however it is threatened by lack of freshwater inflows, erosion, and pollution. Join the Texas Estuarine Resource Network (TERN) in protecting waterbird through monitoring rookery habitat and foraging grounds. 

Wisconsin BioBlitz 2016
A Park Ranger leads a group of Citizen Scientists participate in an Insect Survey along a River in St Croix, WI


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant: Find of list of on-going projects in each Sea Grant state, including Florida's own Biscayne Bay Water Watch and Florida Keys Water Watch

National Park Service BioBlitz: Participate in an annual 24 hour intensive biological surveying experience with the National Park Service. Here are several other projects you can get involved with for the National Park Service! 

National Wildlife Federation: Become a citizen naturalist through NWF programs dedicated to surveying birds, frogs, butterflies, and more! 

The Citizen Science Association, along with SciStarter, will be hosting National Citizen Science Day from April 14th - May 20th, 2017. Parks, zoos,and libraries across the country will be hosting festivals and events to engage their local communities in crowd-sourced science projects. 

NPS BioBlitz 2016: Washington, DC
Citizen Scientists look for critters in algae during the National Park Service BioBlitz in Washington, DC (Photo by: Sarah Sparhawk)

Download Mobile Applications

There is also a large assortment of mobile app downloads available for your smart phone, covering as many different research topics as you could possibly imagine. Many of them are free and easy to use. These are just some examples: 

iNaturalist: documents your observations of nature by uploading photos of plants and animals. The purpose of this app is to track observed species through user feedback, and the database can be used by organizations interested in collecting subset data from these observations. 

Marine Debris Tracker: Log observations of marine debris you see on beaches or in the water. This app was created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Division partnered with the University of Georgia's Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. 

Marine Debris
Marine Debris is more than an eyesore- it can injure wildlife, harm human health, and pose a as navigational hazard. Help track marine debris with the NOAA and UGA App

IveGot1: Submit observations of invasive species, from your smartphone! Invasive species can threaten the health of local, natural environments. The IveGot1 database makes reporting species easy and accessible to natural resource managers working to control the extent of such infestations. IveGot1 was created by the University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, along with the National Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. 

NoiseTube: Measure the level of noise in your neighborhood to contribute to "noise mapping", or measuring the amount of noise pollution in your area. Scientists are studying levels of noise across the world to better understand how noise pollution may be affecting wildlife or even human behavior (studies have linked negative impacts on human health and concentration to said noise). 

iDigBio Blog: iNaturalist
The goal of iNaturalist is to connect people to nature and to their communities (Photo: iDigBio)

Genes in Space: Play a space-themed game on your smartphone that actually helps cancer research. That's right! Scientists from Cancer Research UK created this app to help wade through enormous amounts of genetic data to look for patterns that might help find a cancer cure, only developed as a game for non-scientific users. 

Globe at Night: Help measure light pollution by taking photos of the sky and comparing your observations to several available magnitude charts through the app. Light pollution is not only wasted energy, but also has been shown to have detrimental effects on sleep patterns in humans, and impacts wildlife and their natural habitats. Global at Night was created by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. 

Meteor Counter: Help NASA gather data about cosmic debris spotted in the sky. Through this app you can quickly record time, location, and magnitude of shootings starts. The app is also helpful in providing news and an event calendar to help find upcoming meteor showers. 

Creek Watch: Developed by IBM's Smarter Planet Project, this app aims to collect data about local waterways to share with water control boards across the US to better manage their resources. With Creek Watch you will collect estimated amount of water, rate of slow, amount of trash present, and a photo. 

IveGot1 User Interface
Examples of the User Interface from the IveGot1 Invasive Species Reporting Mobile Application

Tagging Programs

Some Resources For Anglers Getting Involved With Citizen Science:

Everything You Need To Know About Fish Tagging

100 Tagging Programs You Can Get Involved With

How Tagging Data Of Fish Is Actually Used

The sun is out and the seas are rolling, you have your rig set up in 1800 feet of water in four knots, and the line is tight with a fish on. You sweat and strain while hand cranking the animal to the surface and somehow maintain the strength to wrestle him into the boat- and how magnificent he is! This is what it’s all about, right? After you catch your breath, you notice your fish has some sort of tag dangling from the base of his dorsal fin. What is this tag? What should you do if you see one?

These tags are a vital component of fisheries research and management. They are used to capture information and gain perspective; to create a more comprehensive assessment of fish populations. This includes the ability to learn more about their patterns of movement, mortality rates, and population dynamics. Those insights provide a better understanding of the species, which can then lead to more effective management decisions. If you are an avid fisherman, there are several different tagging programs that you should be aware of.

"[Tagging Programs] are used to capture information and gain perspective; to create a more comprehensive assessment of fish populations...which can lead to more effective management decisions"

Tagging Objectives

There are several main objectives of tagging programs. First and foremost, tagging is used to study movement. Having the location information at the release and recapture for a subset of fish provides a collection of tracking info that can be used to analyze patterns of movement for the entire population. In association with other environmental or biological factors, these patterns can be used to better monitor and manage the population. Also, sometimes fish species are managed in divided stocks (see Cooperate Yellowtail Flounder Tagging Project in New England).  By following patterns of movement for fish within each stock, researchers and managers can get a better sense of how these population may move and intermix, and how to resolve associated stakeholder conflict. 

Another objective tagging programs strive for is calculating the exploitation rate for the fishery, or determining how many fish are removed from the population. Tag reports collected from commercial and/or recreational fishermen provide information on the amount of individuals fished from the population, in a certain timeframe, which researchers can use to model the rate of exploitation. The rate of fishery exploitation is critical to managers who work to come up with a set of regulations balanced for sustainable catch. 

Fishermen partnerships in cooperative tagging and management programs are essential to creating fully comprehensive regulation systems by including the expertise of the fishermen themselves. Tagging programs would not be as successful without the help of fishermen and mariners reporting tags; their input is critical because they are equally important stakeholders. All involved entities are necessary to create the most efficient set of regulations to protect our fisheries for future generations, for the integrity of the environment, but to also foster the continued success of the industry. 

Cool Green Nature: Chasing Cod- Tracking a Fish to Save an Industry
Researchers from NOAA's Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Catch Cod to Tag in efforts to Save the Fishery (Photo: John Clarke Russ)

Types of Tags

There are variety of tags that exist. The two most common types of external tags you are likely to see are: T-bar Anchor Tags and Pop-up Satellite Tags

1. T-Bar Anchor Tags: also known as spaghetti tags, are simple external tags made of vinyl or monofilament tubing. T-bar tags are coming because they are relatively cheap, they can be coded to have unique animal ID numbers and reporting information printed on the tubing, they can be applied to the fish quickly, and are appropriate for most species of fish large enough to support the 2inch tag. These tags are inserted at the base of the dorsal fin. Downsides to using T-bar tags include the requirement of a tagging gun, some training, and that these tags can be shed from the animal fairly easily. 

T-bar Anchor Tag
T-Bar Anchor Tags are Popular because they are Convenient and Cost Effective

2. Pop-up Satellite Tags: Pop-Up Satellite Archival Tags (PSATs) are, by far, the most expensive external tag. However, they are incredibly valuable because they collect real time data: location and movement of the animal, as well as environmental measurements for temperature, salinity, depth, light levels, etc., and can transmit the recorded information to orbiting satellites, which relay to the researchers's computers. PSATs are battery powered, and at a preset time, the battery can activate the dissolution of the anchor attachment to completely detach from the fish and float at the surface of the water to 1) broadcast the data and 2) allow for possible recovery. This makes PSATs effective for studying large pelagic fish such as billfish, tuna, and sharks. 

Pop-Up Satellite Archival Tag
Although Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags can be expensive, they offer valuable information about large pelagic fish and environmental conditions

Tagging programs were created to monitor fish populations using the method of “mark and recapture”. By tagging, or marking, individuals and then catching them at a later time, scientists have a ‘before and after’ snapshot that they can use to assess changes in age and growth, and redistribution patterns, as just a few examples. The data collected from these tagged individuals is used to statistically deduce valuable information about the entire population. Tagging can include something as simple as painting a dot or making a fin clip, but varies in range to more high-tech methods such as placing satellite tags or inserting acoustic pingers. A research team may choose one method over another based on their own program’s objectives, budget, and target species.

Placing a PSAT Tag with Casa Vieja Lodge, Guatamala
Charters may include Tagging Efforts during Trips to Contribute to The Billfish Foundation. Here, a PSAT Satellite Tag is Inserted

The Billfish Foundation was founded in the 1980’s by a group of scientists and avid fishermen to advance research and education for improved species conservation. Their largest project, the billfish tag and release program (link: http://www.billfish.org/research/tag-and-release/), is the most extensive of its kind. Since 1990, TBF has recorded over 220,000 tag and release reports.

There are several different institutions and agencies that use the data collected from the tags, it depends on the region and species targeted. For example, specific projects in the past have contributed to University of Southern Mississippi, University of Miami, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Queensland (Australia), to name a few. Socio-economic studies have also been completed to analyze the fishing tourism industry in parts of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

 If you find a TBF tag (which is not necessarily easy), do not try to pull it out of the muscle, as that may cause damage. Cut the monofilament leader below the tag, separating it from the head inside the muscle. Take a measurement of the fish from the base of the jaw to the fork in the tail, and estimate weight. Also record your GPS position of the capture. You can email TBF at tag@billfish.org or call them (954)938-0150. 

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