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What Happens When State Reporting Moves Online But You Can't Get Online

Ida Hall displays her flip phone as she talks to the VMRC board.
Pamela D'Angelo
Ida Hall displays her flip phone as she talks to the VMRC board.

For most of her life, Ida Hall has been working out on the Chesapeake Bay catching crabs. With the exception of a few tweaks, the crab traps she uses to catch them have remained the same since they were invented in the 1920s. But technology is imposing itself. Watermen must move from paper to online to report their catch to the state.

So, Hall grabbed her flip phone and drove her 1995 Dodge truck 2 hours to speak to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission about it. "I live in an area that is underserved by internet," Hall told the commission. "I can’t get it at my home and this is my cell phone. I would upgrade it, I would love to get into the 21st Century, but I don’t have a reliable cell signal."

Hall is one of more than 3,000 Virginians who fish, crab or oyster for a living. And while she may be the first to lodge her concerns about online reporting before the board, she’s among the 30 percent of rural Americans without access to broadband. Virginia won’t have full coverage until 2028 but mandatory online reporting starts next year.

Commissioner Steve Bowman and Chief of Fisheries Management Patrick Geer were sympathetic to Hall's problem. "I’d like to move broadband in the same warp speed that we’re moving this," Bowman said.

"Yeah that’s what’s beyond our control is getting the broadband up there," Geer added.

Staying with paper is costing the state too much money and time says Adam Kenyon, who overseas mandatory harvest reporting program. He says the online system has over 1,800 users and there are very few complaints. "Our commercial watermen the average age is over 55. We get more complaints about that they don’t like computers or they don’t understand computers. A lot of times it’s just that they haven’t really gone through the process of trying to work," Kenyon said. "When they had to do the paper ones, they had to learn the paper ones."

The commission also suggested Hall could, like others, hire someone to enter their data. "It’s not our fault that we don’t have internet. And we shouldn’t be punished further by having to pay," Hall responded.

In the end, a deal was struck. VMRC’s regional office will open its doors for Hall to come in and be tutored and use their internet connection to file online.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.