Open Hunting and Fishing Data

08 April 2014

At the U.S. Open Data Institute, we’re launching our first major effort to bootstrap a new open data ecosystem, and we’re starting with something unusual, at least in the open data realm—open hunting and fishing data.

Hunting and fishing is a huge business—it’s a $75 billion industry in the U.S. 33 million people fish regularly, and 14 million people hunt regularly. But unlike most pastimes and recreational activities, participating in these activities requires a significant amount of knowledge about laws and regulations. And those regulations can be dizzying.

Want to hunt? OK, but you’ll need to know what species, with what kind of weapon, in what municipality, when in the year, at what time of day. And some of those things might be different for children, or the elderly, or people with physical disabilities. Or on public lands versus private lands, or on Sundays versus the rest of the week. Hunting Canada geese in Virginia? Then it matters which side of I-95 you’re on. Hunting bear with dogs? Better double-check the laws, because they’re different on each side of I-81…sometimes. Hunting deer? Buck or doe? Antlered or antlerless? Are you in an area where you can get a bonus buck? Are you in an area where baiting is allowed? If you’re in Wisconsin, better check the map to see if you’re in a county with chronic wasting disease. Hunting deer in Texas? You’ll need to check whether the property you’re on has a Level 2 or a Level 3 Managed Lands Deer Permit, to know if special antler restrictions apply, because then you’ll need to make sure that the buck has at least one unbranched antler or a 13” inside spread…but you can only shoot one of those. Truly, the regulations are staggering, and they’re sure to suppress participation.

Luckily, we’re starting this work just as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is looking to modernize their data practices, giving us a great partner in government. Like most game agencies, the Virginia DGIF is funded mostly by user fees—hunting licenses, fishing permits, etc.—requiring that they take a customer-centric approach rarely necessary for government agencies. One could hardly design a better environment for fostering innovation within government.

We’re going to create JSON representations of many of Virginia’s hunting, fishing, and boating regulations—currently provided in a series of booklets and as HTML and graphics on DGIF’s website—and create the software to ensure that the data can be maintained indefinitely by DGIF. That development will be done entirely in the open on our GitHub repository, and we hope that participants will include representatives from other state game agencies, appropriate federal officials, app developers, hunters, and open data developers. Of course, all of the data, software, and documentation emitted by this process are being created and released under open licenses.

Simultaneously, we’ll be promoting this work within the private sector, to encourage the creation of tools put this data to work—websites, iPhone apps, and who knows what else. It will be exciting to see how DGIF uses this data on its own website, but surely a lot more interesting to see what brilliant things that hackers do with it.

Open data is about so much more than government contracts, campaign finance data, laws, legislation, and so on. That’s all enormously important—there’s a reason why the open data movement has been focused on that sort of data for so long—but we need to branch out to new types of data and new markets, so that we can tell new stories to new audiences about the value of open data. Let’s create a story that we can tell to—and about—33 million fisherman and 14 million hunters.