TNRC Blog | “Justina del Mar,” a virtual ally to prevent corruption in the artisanal fishing sector

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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

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“Justina del Mar,” a virtual ally to prevent corruption in the artisanal fishing sector

In December 2024, WWF Peru presented the progress of the development of "Justina del Mar", a virtual chatbot for use by artisanal fishers and shipowners in Peru. Justina provides key information on the fishing sector and the government’s complaints mechanism, thus contributing to the prevention of corruption. This blog synthesizes and shares the lessons learned from the process of creating and developing Justina.

Corruption in Peru's artisanal fisheries sector

Corruption – defined as the use of entrusted power for private gain – is a problem that occurs everywhere and in all productive sectors. It can involve politicians, government officials, public servants, businessmen or citizens. Corruption in the fisheries sector is closely linked to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, an activity that threatens the sustainable management of hydrobiological resources, the preservation of marine ecosystems, and the livelihoods of artisanal fishers.

In Peru, weak governance and a lack of transparency are key factors exacerbating the problem of corruption. This corruption manifests itself in deficient processes to formalize artisanal fishing, bureaucratic and costly administrative procedures, inadequate enforcement of regulations or the existence of legal loopholes, as well as limited allocation of budget and logistical resources for regulatory implementation and oversight.

WWF Peru's response

To address the problem of corruption in the Peruvian fishing sector, in 2021, WWF Peru began a pilot for digital departure authorizations through TrazApp, a simple and easy-to-understand application that traces the origin of seafood. During this time, WWF Peru also assessed corruption risks in the country's two main artisanal fisheries: mahi mahi and squid. The assessment identified corruption risks related to situations such as payments or requests for bribes, abuse of authority, illegal patronage and influence peddling. One of the underlying causes of these situations is a lack of knowledge about key fishery information on the part of artisanal fishers and shipowners. This lack of knowledge is due to the lack of dissemination, the complex disbursement of information across various platforms, a lack of updating, and the use of technical and legal language that makes it difficult to understand.

To address this problem, WWF Peru developed "Justina del Mar" (Justina of the Sea), a WhatsApp chatbot designed to offer information on management, sanctions, and reporting channels in the artisanal fishing sector.

Collaborative development of a chatbot

WWF Peru developed "Justina del Mar" in collaboration with fishers, artisanal shipowners, national fisheries and maritime authorities and specialists from WWF Peru and WWF US. The development process involved two main lines of work: the technical development of the platform, and the generation and verification of the content.

Developing the chatbot platform

This stage involved the information technology teams of WWF Peru and WWF US. In the selection of the chatbot platform provider, the team needed to identify one that would meet the required functionalities and have the necessary information security. The selected consultant met these requirements, even though it was originally created for marketing and sales purposes. As that differed from a use of providing technical-legal content and communication materials, the content had to be adapted according to the characteristics of the platform.

WhatsApp was chosen as the “dissemination channel” of the platform because it is the application most used by fishers and artisanal shipowners. After the technical process of "integration," the team solicited official verification of the account by Meta, in order to generate user trust.

Generating and verifying the chatbot's content together with its main beneficiaries

For a tool like Justina, the technical aspects are important, but even more important are the content and information that the tool shares. To kick off the design of "Justina del Mar," telephone surveys were carried out with artisanal fishers and shipowners to identify existing knowledge gaps in the sector. The results revealed gaps in the topics of inspections, administrative sanction procedures, regulations, and reporting mechanisms including examples of legal complaints for presenting to national authorities. In addition, the team asked the government about the request topics they most often heard from artisanal fishers and/or shipowners in their institutions. WWF Peru compared this information with their experiences acquired through close work with fishing communities. Finally, the information was systematized, with more requests for access to information and specialized consultations.

Once the systematization was completed, the team began the creation of content through developing "Conversation Guides” structured according to the interactions users would have with the chatbot. These guides were presented in a focus group with leaders of artisanal fishing organizations in the north of the country.

Types of corruption guide

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Fishing season and minimum measurements guide

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WWF Peru improved the content based on the feedback obtained in the focus group. Subsequently, the text was subjected to a thorough review by the technical-legal and communications teams of WWF Peru, with the aim of adapting them to a simple and easy-to-understand language. The Safeguards and Legal teams of WWF Peru and WWF US were also involved to give recommendations for the use of public and official information and to develop the terms and conditions. External specialists and the Government itself were also involved to validate the information.

A final feedback process carried out together with artisanal fishing organizations in the south of the country allowed the team to collect their perceptions of the chatbot and ensure that the features and functionalities were aligned with their information needs.

Lessons learned for similar future initiatives

  • Multidisciplinary collaboration: Multidisciplinary teams are needed who can contribute from various professional areas. “Justina del Mar” required professionals who had technical and legal knowledge about the fishing sector, management of socio-environmental risks (safeguards) and risks related to information security systems and personal data processing, communications and marketing, information technology, and geographic information systems.
  • Active participation of fishing communities: The inclusion of artisanal fishers and shipowners from minute one of the process led to a co-design of the chatbot and facilitated its adoption. This lesson highlights the importance of involving an initiative’s stakeholders not only during execution, but also during initiative design.
  • Government validation and endorsement: Government validation of the chatbot content built the credibility of the information and helped avoid biases and/or inappropriate interpretations. In addition, their involvement in the design process demonstrated their support for the tool, which beneficiaries appreciated.
  • Adaptability and flexibility, testing and planning: The adaptation of technological tools can generate challenges related to limitations like the length of text, functionalities not foreseen in the platform, visualization of graphic materials, internet connectivity factors, or size of files, among others. Therefore, before the launch of a tool like a chatbot, practitioners should carry out tests of its operation. Despite the challenges, and thanks to their adaptability and flexibility, the team adjusted to the changing needs of the platform and ensured a simple and seamless user experience.

Introducing "Justina del Mar"

On December 20, 2023, WWF Peru held the virtual event "Introducing Justina del Mar: An ally in artisanal fishing," presenting the progress of the chatbot’s development. This event was attended by approximately 60 stakeholders from the artisanal fishing sector, including Mrs. Úrsula León Chempén, Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Peru’s Ministry of Production. The Deputy Minister, after calling Justina an "invaluable tool for artisanal fisheries actors," said, "In the information age, ensuring that knowledge is not only accessible, but also understandable to all, is crucial for effective and equitable governance. This accessibility not only strengthens the autonomy and ability of our fishers to make informed decisions, but also fosters a community that is more empowered and aware of its rights and responsibilities."

As WWF Peru believes, Justina can contribute to this accessibility and good governance. Better knowledge about official procedures reduces vulnerabilities to unpermitted demands. A clearer understanding of the correct sanctioning process incentivizes compliance. And better access to whistleblowing channels will make it easier for those affected to report cases of corruption and other wrongdoing.

Soon, in May of this year, the official launch of "Justina del Mar" and its socialization will begin. In the coming months, Justina will begin her work helping, informing, and connecting fishers, and reducing opportunities for corruption.

Image attribution: © / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus