Smarter fishing technology gets big boost from new government rule
West Coast fishing boats to use camera systems to monitor fishing
The use of smarter monitoring systems that use cameras to track what fishermen are hauling onto their vessels just got a big boost thanks to a new National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rule that allows for technology deployment on a significant portion of the Pacific groundfish fleet.
The new rule, which will take effect in 2021, will have a profound impact on the fleet by lowering costs for fishermen and improving the quality of monitoring, which will, in turn, improve conservation outcomes.
Regulations in the fishery currently require human monitors onboard vessels at all times, which can be costly, inefficient and challenging to obtain in some ports. A number of fishermen have been testing electronic monitoring under a pilot program for the past several years, including one Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) helped to support along with The Nature Conservancy and the California Groundfish Collective, but this regulation will allow the technology to scale beyond the current pilot participants.
“This is an important step towards creating “Smart Boats” that can deploy a variety of technology, including cameras, to bring down costs of monitoring, improve conservation and increase the accuracy of the data generated by fishermen,” Shems Jud, West Coast Director, EDF Oceans.
Over the past several years, EDF alongside other partners, has worked to improve and expand smart technology systems for fishing vessels across the U.S. to deliver on the promise of what technology can bring. This includes using data in real time to create better conservation outcomes, while at the same time increasing prosperity for fishing communities. As part of that work, EDF recently launched its Smart Boat Initiative at the World Ocean Summit to catalyze action on how technology can be deployed in the service of sustainable fishing.
“This is a major milestone and we congratulate the National Marine Fisheries Service on their forward-looking approach using technology to help solve real-world challenges,” said Melissa Mahoney, Manager Pacific Fisheries Policy, EDF Oceans. “But the job is far from done. We have amazing opportunities to harness technology in new ways, including through the use of real-time wireless data transmission, artificial intelligence that can detect when fishing is occurring and the use of sensors to tell us more about what’s happening in the ocean. This is an exciting time, and we’re proud to have contributed to the dialogue that led to this much-needed change.”
The stakes are huge, not just for the oceans, but also for those whose lives depend upon them. Globally, over 1.5 billion people rely on fish for nutrition and for their livelihoods. However, the majority of fisheries worldwide are seeing production level off or decrease in recent years. Research by EDF and leading scientists estimates that every year the world loses $53 billion in revenues from mismanagement of global marine fisheries. This is a trend that can and must be reversed.
EDF’s Smart Boat Initiative, is designed to address the major information gaps that hinder the improvement and successful uptake of good fisheries management systems and practices. We envision networked fisheries that will leverage multiple technologies to extend a ”digital nervous system” across oceans. The plan for transforming global fisheries depends on equipping fishing vessels around the world with an increased ability to collect, share and use data by leveraging the latest developments in sensor, network, artificial intelligence and other technologies, effectively turning these vessels into smart boats.
With more than four million fishing boats — large industrial vessels and small skiffs alike — plying the world’s oceans at any given moment, we see enormous potential to create fleets of smart boats that can generate an unprecedented new level of information about fisheries and the oceans. This information can help improve decision-making, expand market opportunities and improve the quality of life for fishermen at sea. It’s also good news for your dinner plate.
Of course, technology on its own is not enough. It must be responsive to the unique needs of fishing communities and ecosystems, validated by scientific assessment and utilized within a well-designed regulatory framework. EDF is committed to making that happen, and will work to ensure that these new technologies are incorporated into a regime that addresses the needs of all stakeholders. EDF believes that smart boats, and the networked fisheries they enable, will transform fisheries management. They would allow managers to cost-effectively monitor fisheries, empower fishermen to increase their profits sustainably and give communities the power to control their own food security, all while helping to protect our marine ecosystems. Not a bad catch all around.