The Caribbean fisheries sector is recognized as vital to national economies as it supplements local food supply and provides an important employment opportunity for many citizens, particularly in rural communities. The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, for example, has prioritised development and growth in the fish and fishing industry on account of its economic and social significance. Its target is to make this sector competitive, sustainable and profitable, as well as “inclusive, equitable and supportive of the local fishing communities” (Ministry of Trade and Industry, MTI Column 2005).
The Caribbean Fisheries Training and Development Institute (CFTDI), based in Trinidad, recognizes a number of barriers to the development of the Caribbean fishing industry. In the case of the fisher folk themselves, key services in need include training and various types of advisory services related to the adequate management of natural resources and the safety of small boats during potential climate-related hazards. Though safety at sea is practiced, there is limited formal training except to those who were trained while in another industry (Kishore et al 2006). The possibility of hazards at sea, especially during the hurricane season, and the reported limited numbers trained in safety at sea (Kishore et al 2006) motivates training in this area. The CFTDI is keen to utilize remote audio training and advisories to enable fisher folk to access these services remotely. The high penetration levels of cellular phones among Caribbean fisher folk present this channel as the one of choice.
Indeed, DIRSI's 2007 Mobile Opportunities research established that mobile usage among the Trinidad and Tobago poor was 86% and the Jamaican poor was 94% . The study yielded revealing information about general usage patterns among the poor in both countries. In particular it was found that the main value of the mobile phone revolves around the building and maintenance of social capital and that mobile telephony is little used for commercial advantage among the poor. The study estimated that there is significant scope for further adoption as well as richer application of the mobile phone for personal productivity and economic gain among the region's poor.
Yet the outputs of a 2008 DIRSI-facilitated Stakeholders' meeting in Trinidad indicate that a great deal of empirical as well as analytical research which underpins the creation and execution of sound developmental programmes is unavailable. Among the key areas of unsatisfied demand, are those that relate to:
· The information and communications needs of low income earners in revenue-earning activities;
· The perceptions of low-income earners with respect to mobile usability and fitness for purpose;
· Knowledge of the full cycle of innovation necessary to leverage mobile applications for Caribbean development;
· Analytical and empirical bases for the selection of ICTs in developmental programmes.
The building of innovative capacities in the Caribbean is considered a crucial enabler for bootstrapping social and economic development. The extensive mobile penetration among the Caribbean poor, the tremendous versatility of mobile applications and the relatively low cost as well as rapid deployability of mobile applications and services, make a compelling case for Caribbean mobile innovation. Yet there is little in the region by way of case study resources, documented methodology and process mapping.
Caribbean policy makers and associations are interested in the possibilities for offering innovative mobile applications and services through the ubiquitous mobile phone. This research uses fisheries as a focal point for the development and demonstration of innovative capacity in pro-poor, mobile application needs assessment, design, development, deployment and evaluation that can be applied to any sector.