Catching Up: Sustainable fishing and emerging technology
Fishing has always involved ingenuity and invention, from the Pacific Islanders’ ancient tailoring of bones and shells into fish hooks (long before metal arrived in their cultures) to modern uses of everything from rotational sensors to machine learning to digitally understand where, when and how fishing takes place. Innovation typically takes place “in-house”, i.e. led by the fishing industry itself, with an increasing movement of start-ups, NGOs and entrepreneurs – motivated primarily by tackling the environmental and social challenges of seafood production – now joining this challenge. We have created a new “Sustainable Fishing Challenges” group on WILDLABS to try foster more of this innovation and collaboratively make fishing fit for the future.
At a very basic level, the three essential elements of fishing are 1. The vessel, 2. The fishing equipment (or “gear”), and 3. The fish (obviously). While some commonplace technologies are unrecognisable from those of the past (i.e. sonar fish finders, digital catch logbooks), some of the crucial components of the job have altered little (i.e. net design). Newly proposed vessel, gear or fish catch monitoring technologies must be robust, efficient and durable, meaning innovation needs to be answering a genuine need and be subject to thorough, collaborative testing (and consensus-building) before new advances are adopted across whole fleets or countries.
In introducing the new WILDLABS group, we challenge users to contribute their insights/expertise/opportunities across each of these three areas.
Today, we'd like to highlight the final area of our challenge: innovating the way we monitor fish.
innovation of Fish Catch Monitoring
Getting fish catch from “bait to plate” can be a huge logistical challenge. While we romantically tend to think of eating fish as “catch of the day”, straight from the dock, in most instances we consume seafood that may have been caught in one continent, processed and packaged in a second and consumed in a third. The information burden of these global supply chains is considerable, not just in terms of maintaining functional markets, but also in ensuring that seafood products are from sustainable, equitable and legal sources.
While huge, vertically-integrated corporate giants dominate the global market share of fisheries (and have invested hugely in the information flow of their supply chains), there is increasing urgency around the need to use technology to allow fairer and more lucrative access for small operators. The catches, revenues and social contributions of small-scale fishers are often invisible to governments and corporate actors, but the proliferation of smartphones and app-based catch monitoring tools is slowly revealing this “hidden harvest”. From simple, standalone tools to digitise fish catch records (e.g. Rare’s OurFish app, fishery-specific applications of open-source KOBO ToolBox) to more integrated systems that aim to digitise several links in fishery market chains, starting at the small-scale producer end (e.g. ABALOBI, InsiteSolution).
Complex supply chains can become a breeding ground for criminality and technology to better monitor the systems themselves (as well as the products within them) are being revolutionised by blockchain technology. For larger fisheries and their buyers (e.g. supermarkets), using the “distributed ledger” model enables faster and non-corruptible verification of where catch has come from (e.g. in the IBM Food Trust platform’s work on fisheries in New England) as well as to root out companies that may be fishing illegally in complex, multi-national fisheries (e.g. WWF partnership with ConsenSys, TraSeable and Seaquest in the Pacific islands).
Key questions for this thread:
- How does better digitally documenting catch lead to changes “on the water”?
- Could blockchain technologies be used in small-scale fisheries to enable fairer market access?
- In addition to revealing illegal practices, can digital catch information incentivise better practices?
Help us answer these important questions by joining our WILDLABS Sustainable Fishing Challenges group, where you'll find all of our current challenges. You can respond to this post's Fish Catch Monitoring challenge in this thread.
If you're interested in learning more about how technology can change the fishing industry and create more sustainable practices through monitoring, check out our recent Tech Tutors episode with Oceanmind's Max Schofield, who tackled the question "How do I use open access remote sensing data to monitor fishing?"