How technology can help transform the fishing industry

Fishery in Bangkok, Thailand
Shutterstockstockphoto mania

Global fisheries face two major challenges: climate change, which results in fish stocks moving away from historical grounds; and feeding millions of people a healthy source of protein in a sustainable way. However, a new era of technological innovations presents great opportunities to protect our oceans, maintain healthy fish populations, feed 3 billion people and protect the livelihoods of more than 260 million, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Although technology by itself cannot solve the global fishing crisis, it can be a catalytic element for the transformation of fisheries practices and policies. Under a sustainable approach — where we satisfy the needs of the present without compromising the resources of future generations — technological innovations offer an opportunity to improve fisheries management practices and seafood business, while empowering fishers and providing more information to consumers so that they can make more responsible seafood choices.

For instance, Alaska’s cod fishery is an example of how new technologies are helping the fishing industry become more efficient and sustainable. The cod fishery is testing an electronic monitoring system, combined with computer vision technology and machine learning (an application of artificial intelligence that allows systems to learn from their own feedback), to help avoid overfishing Pacific halibut, a high-value species in the region often found with cod.

Although cod is the target species, the fishery has strict Pacific halibut bycatch limits and exceeding these limits may trigger a closure of the cod fishery. To help comply with the Pacific halibut bycatch quota and keep cod fishermen on the water, some vessels are testing new electronic monitoring systems that automatically count and measure halibut and other species as they are brought on board or discarded. Estimates can be made quickly, meaning fish spend less time out of the water, increasing their survival rate.

Technology also can help consumers make better decisions regarding what they eat and the impacts of their choices on the environment and on those who participate in its production. For example, enterprises such as Bumble Bee Foods are able to provide their customers with information on when and where the FairTrade tuna they are eating came from. 

Bumble Bee uses a SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service, which allows consumers to follow their tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean from boat to plate. According to German software company SAP, this technology provides seafood companies with the ability to trace their products throughout the supply chain. Consumers then can scan QR codes with their smartphones to learn about the provenance of their tuna and the responsible practices developed by this fishery, allowing them to make better consumption decisions.

In Mexico, some seafood producers are giving consumers more information on what is on their plates. In Yucatan, grouper fishers are promoting traceability through a digital platform that tracks their vessels via satellite, sending information on where they are and what they are catching.

Technology also empowers small-scale fishers generating information not just on fisheries, but on markets, which allows them to make better business decisions and demonstrate their commitment to ocean conservation. For example, in the curvina fishery in the Gulf of California, Mexico, fishers and authorities have access to daily information on catches and prices, thanks to the use of digital technology. The Community Administrative Monitoring Program uses a mobile application called WebControl Pesca.

Through WebControl Pesca, fishery monitors register fishermen quickly and precisely and track where and when they fish, how much fish are caught and to whom they sell it and at what price. The information gathered is automatically shared with authorities and fishers. Thanks to this information, fishers have more control over their activities, they can decide whether it is a good day in terms of prices to go fishing, or if it is time to stop fishing once the total allowed catch has been reached.

In addition to WebControl Pesca, the curvina fishery has installed Pelagic Data Systems to monitor all its vessels. Thanks to this geotracking device, legitimate fishers can demonstrate their commitment to the conservation of endangered species in the region — such as the vaquita marina and the totoaba — and demonstrate that they are complying with regulations designed to protect these imperiled species.

At EDF we are certain that harnessing the power of technological innovations under our approach to sustainable fishing will help us to restore our oceans, empower fishers and better inform consumers on the products they are choosing. Through our Smart Boat Initiative we will continue working with fishers, traders, fishing communities, scientists and fishing officials on how emerging technologies can help evolve the way we fish today.

The potential is as vast as the ocean. Let’s keep exploring it together.

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