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How data science can help the fishing industry improve its sustainability

Data science to help improve fishing industry

An ever-increasing global population, a market based on supply and demand, and a culture based on profit have strained our relationship with the environment. 

Today, we no longer just take what’s needed, but more than can be replenished sustainably.

The consequences of our actions are reaching an irreversible point, and it’s only now that most governments are realising the need for sustainability. It was this shift in thinking that has helped us channel our ingenuity, innovation and problem-solving skills more meaningfully to harmonise our existence with Earth. 

The fishing industry has played a key role in providing billions of people with a livelihood and food on the table; but as with most things, these excesses have led to the near-depletion of fish and shellfish populations across the globe. 

The silver lining is that our technological advancements have brought forth an unlikely hero to help us turn the tide: Data science.

Data science helps us create and benefit from a sustainable fishing industry 

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the biggest threat to a sustainable fishing industry, contributing to 20% of the industry’s output. 

Regardless of whether there are the necessary legislation and regulations in place, it has been near impossible to monitor fishing activities on a larger scale. 

With emerging technologies like machine learning, however, it is now possible to monitor the data gathered through GPS systems and satellites and identify trends and patterns that can help authorities combat IUU fishing. 

These databases also have the potential to help lawmakers and governments identify fishing grounds that need protection during certain times of the year. It provides the hard data necessary to implement effective laws and regulations.  

In an ideal scenario with the analytics tools now available, in the coming years, the world may see the development of a sustainable fishing industry and an improvement in fisheries management to satisfy the needs of the present without compromising the resources of future generations. 

Analytics empower fishermen and compel seafood companies to make the right choice

Large commercial fishing vessels and their methods of fishing cause the most damage to the frail ecosystems of the ocean. Their longlines and sprawling nets pay no consideration to the size of their catch, whether it is mature or has spawned. 

This diminishes breeding populations, making it near impossible for species like bluefin tuna, for instance, to replenish their numbers to what they were a few decades back.  

These vessels are required to send out their location by GPS, however, and this data is invaluable. 

This is collected in a large open database and made available to identify illegal behaviour. This wealth of data has supported the development of cloud platform blockchain services and digital platforms that let seafood companies track their supply chain and provide consumers with scannable QR codes so they know exactly if the seafood they are purchasing was sustainably sourced. 

If sellers and consumers make their purchasing decisions based on sustainability and ethical practices, we can consider the first battle won. 

What are the barriers to wide-scale data science adoption in the fishing industry?

While there are innumerable benefits to using analytics to combat illegal and unethical fishing practices, there are certain challenges we need to address for greater success in this industry.

  • High startup costs have held back a more wide-scale use of this technology. With the longevity of the fishing industry at stake, governments around the world will have to provide subsidies and research grants to support more extensive analytics implementation. 
  • The use of digital surveillance in the fishing industry has raised certain concerns, given its potential to be used as a political and military tool to crack down on legitimate activities.
  • The limited integration across the science community, regulatory authorities and the fishing industry is another barrier to overcome to benefit from the wide-scale use of data science and create a sustainable fishing industry.   

Data science can be the bedrock on which a thriving and ethical fishing industry operates

The groundwork and the tools necessary to drive the fishing industry towards sustainability are already in place. 
While certain roadblocks need to be addressed, introducing forward-thinking policies and implementing data science modelling techniques can help us create a far more sustainable fishing industry than the one we’re struggling to regulate at present.