A Memorial alumna is combining her love of the ocean and keen eye for technology to change the way we access fresh fish and seafood.
Mirella Leis has created The Fish Market mobile app – the first of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Through the app, fishers can directly sell their catch to local consumers, increasing their negotiation power while contributing to food sovereignty and consumers can connect with fishers, increasing their access to locally caught seafood while contributing to fisheries sustainability,” explained Ms. Leis (MA’16), who is a fellow of the School of Graduate Studies.
‘Feeling more connected’
Originally from Brazil, Ms. Leis moved to St. John’s in 2013 to start a master’s degree in geography with a fellowship from Too Big To Ignore – Global Partnership from Small-Scale Fisheries Research, which is led by Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, University Research Professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
At the time, she was surprised she couldn’t purchase fish and seafood directly from harvesters.
Ms. Leis says direct sales are now permitted but there are no mechanisms in place to facilitate those connections.
That’s where her app comes in.
“As a fish and seafood lover and someone who likes to go out fishing, I also wanted to be able to have easy access to fresh and locally caught fish and seafood while also supporting local fishing communities and feeling more connected to the place I now call home and its heritage.”
Filling a void
Using the app’s map interface, consumers can find nearby fish harvesters. They can also learn more about harvesters, targeted species and types of fishing gear used.
Consumers and fishers can connect through the app’s chat feature, arranging things such as prices and location for pickup.
“I am passionate about protecting our ocean while also supporting sustainable coastal livelihoods.”
Ms. Leis says the app fills a void in the marketplace.
“Almost all seafood caught in Newfoundland and Labrador – about 90 per cent – is being sent abroad,” she said.
“The Fish Market offers to shorten the now long and complex fish chain, bringing fishers and local consumers in Newfoundland and Labrador closer together through a mobile app.”
Ms. Leis’ idea is catching on and she has netted significant exposure for the venture.
She recently secured a $5,000 grant from Ocean Bridge to develop the technology.
She took part in Memorial’s Entrepreneurship Training Program, was accepted into Genesis’ Evolution Program and received the Community Choice Award as part of Genesis’ Pitch and Pick event for startup companies.
She organized and hosted a panel discussion and the photography contest From Hook to Fork: A Missing Link in the Fish Chain and received the Staff Volunteer of the Year Award as part of 2021’s MUN Volunteer Day Awards for her contribution as an Ocean Bridge Youth Ambassador with Ocean Wise.
Ms. Leis was also selected to present at the IUCN’s Global Youth Summit as part of the session, How Youth Can Support SDG14: Life Below Water.
“My presentation followed my trajectory as a youth navigating from life below water to life above water, initially as an oceanographer exploring the underwater world for ocean conservation and later on as a geographer, trying to understand small-scale fishers’ perceptions of marine conservation and their important role in environmental stewardship,” Ms. Leis explained.
As part of the session, she addressed how her app can help bring together fishers and local consumers in support of sustainable fisheries and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 14 – Life Below Water.
Ms. Leis says she was drawn to Memorial because of its innovative research and programming related to the ocean.
She says The Fish Market app is a culmination of what she has been doing since the beginning of her career, which has included marine habitat conservation and advocating for small-scale fisheries.
Currently a knowledge mobilization co-ordinator with Ocean Frontier Institute’s Future Ocean and Coastal Infrastructures research project, Ms. Leis has big plans for the app, including its launch via Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
“I am passionate about protecting our ocean while also supporting sustainable coastal livelihoods for small-scale fishers. I am especially interested in leaving no one behind as we strive together for marine conservation and sustainable fisheries, and us youth have a key role to play in achieving that goal.”