Blog post

Phishing waste for the next generation

Published on
August 21, 2019

In February, I participated in the hackathon organised by the North Sea Foundation. This second FisHack edition focused on keeping waste out of the sea. During the preparation of the event the organisers became increasingly interested in changing unwanted behaviour with positive incentives and using behaviour science to find workable solutions. Although the concept of nudges was new to most of the participants, they completely embraced it and tried to understand the drivers of fisher’s behaviour in order to be able to change it. In this blog, I bring to you the hackathon experience and present you the integration of behaviour science in the different paths taken by the four teams in order to reduce littering at sea.

Photo: Katell Hamon during her presentation

Do you have a clever solution to help fisheries keep their waste out of the sea?

That was the question asked to the participants of the second FisHack hackathon organised by the North Sea Foundation on the 15th and 16th of February 2019 in the fishing village of Urk. A group of 45 scientists, industrial designers, public servants, activists, and community members assembled to tackle the problem of marine litter. The day began early with a guided tour of Urk’s fish auction and an introduction to the challenge at hand by Marijke Boonstra from the North Sea Foundation. Fisheries material such as pieces of nets, ropes, and dolly rope represent the majority of items recovered on isolated beaches (i.e. beaches without tourists) during clean-up events in the Netherlands. Dutch fishers are increasingly aware of their part in the problem of marine litter and therefore practices have improved in recent years. Dutch fishers have also enthusiastically participated in a volunteer program called Fishing for Litter, where they bring hundreds of tons of marine litter to shore every year. They have also played an important role in the clean-up of the MSC Zoe container disaster.

Unfortunately, life on a fishing vessel can be busy and exhausting and fishers often rely on tradition and routine to carry out their work at sea. For safety reasons, the deck of a fishing vessel needs to be free of clutter at all time, and this can be a barrier for the proper management of waste. Therefore, there is still room for improvement when it comes to making sure that nothing gets left behind at sea.

This year’s challenges were a bit different from the usual suspects of a hackathon. Instead of using big data, hacking, and programming, we want to make it easier for the fisher to do the right thing with his waste no matter the circumstances: in a storm, in the middle of the night, or exhausted after a week of work at sea.

So how can you motivate fishers to give their time and effort to properly dispose of damaged nets and rope that come aboard while they’re at sea?

As a specialist in behavioural science at Wageningen Economic Research, part of my research relates to effective ways to change behaviour in fisheries. To bring some principles from behavioural science to the hackathon, I gave a brief introduction to how behaviour can be steered. Traditional ways to motivate behaviour include rules, laws, information, and financial incentives, which were familiar to most of the participants in the FisHack. What I wanted to introduce to was something called nudges: interventions affecting behaviour without punishments, fines or subsidies.

I then presented some examples of nudges already in use in society such as the world-famous fly in the urinals at Schiphol and gave the FisHackers some tips for effective nudge design that they could use as inspiration in the coming two days.

I presented them four ways to stimulate desired behaviour; by making it 1) easier, 2) more attractive, setting it in 3) its social context and steering the desired behaviour with 4) timely actions.
Katell Hamon

This is based on the EAST framework.

To be able to put themselves in a fishers shoes, a visit was organised on a fishing vessel. There they could ask question to a skipper about life on board a fishing vessel and learning about some of the constraints of life at sea. After this thorough introduction it was hack-time! We settled in to our quarters aboard the Noorderkroon (see photo), where we were hosted by the Sea Cadet Corps of Urk. For 30 hours, four teams put all their creativity into finding original solutions for four specific challenges for a cleaner sea:

  1. How to improve waste storage on board
  2. How to improve waste collection on land/in port facilities
  3. How to design a reward system that encourages and stimulates fishers efforts for a cleaner sea
  4. How to register waste brought back to land

And the winner is... the next generation!

All four solutions presented by the fisHackers included behavioural aspects. Most of the solutions aimed to make life easier for fishers, by having storage of plastics directly next to the sorting table (challenge 1), having bins brought to the fishers when they landed to avoid having to walk with their garbage (challenge 2), or by using garbage bags that would automatize the registration of waste (challenge 4, the winner).

Although it didn’t win, the active fisher who took part of the FisHack, Frits van Dellen, was the most interested in the solution proposed for challenge 3, which played more on the social aspect of the challenge. With fellow hackers, we designed a way that old nets and fishing material could be recycled to make playgrounds for children and suggested to combine that with visits from fishers to schools to teach about a cleaner sea.

For Frits, it was important to work with the next generation to solve the problem of marine litter, showing that a fisher’s connection to his community may be far more powerful than punishments, fines, or subsidies.

A fisher’s connection to his community may be far more powerful than punishments, fines, or subsidies
Frits van Dellen

Interested in how to change behaviour?

Getting on board the Noordekroon for a 2 days FisHack

Photo: Getting on board the Noordekroon for a 2 days FisHack

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  • Harriette Snoek

    Wat een mooi voorbeeld van hoe theoretische modellen uit de gedragswetenschappen kunnen bijdragen aan oplossingen in de praktijk! leuk om te lezen

  • P. van Es

    Op strand zijn steeds heel veel visnet draden aangespoeld. Daar blijven dan waterplanten en diertjes tussen zitten en dat is enorm vervuilend.
    Graag ook een oplossing om vervuiling door visnet draden te voorkomen.