Author: Prableen Bajpai
The global fishing industry is plagued with issues related to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. The practice of IUU fishing is not only a transnational organized crime, but also a major threat to the sustainability of the world’s fisheries. The protocols in place are often abused and thus fall short in fighting over-fishing, violation of international maritime laws, evasion of taxes, and crimes related to slavery and fairness in competition.
Here’s a look at how advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain can act as powerful deterrents.
As per reports by The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), more than 90% of fisheries are fully or over-exploited. It is further estimated that illicit fishing may account for up to 26 million tons of fish a year, or more than 15% of the world’s total annual capture fisheries output. The extent of IUU fishing for some important fisheries accounts for 30% of the total catch, and that in some ports, as much as 50% of landings. The global loss of unlawful fishing costs up to $23.5 billion annually worldwide. Besides economic damage, such practices are severely threatening the biodiversity and food security across countries.
In the U.S., an investigation by Oceana found that one-third, or 33% of the seafood samples were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. The U.S. imports more than 80% of its seafood requirement, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrative (NOAA).
Inaccurate assessment or unmeasured fisheries are a contributing factor to the problem; estimates suggest that fewer than 440 are regularly assessed or measured by scientific methods of the 10,000+ fisheries in the world. There are other challenges such as the absence of “human observers” on boats and the element of subjectivity in data collection in certain cases.
Use of Advanced Technologies:
There is an increasing number of organizations exploring AI, data analytics and blockchain to combat the IUU fishing menace.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is “operationalizing its capabilities to fill the scientific data gaps and solve a major global conservation problem—lawlessness in fisheries” by leveraging advanced technologies such as face-reading AI. TNC conducted an AI-based data science challenge wherein winners created a set of algorithms “designed to identify when a fish is caught and what type of fish it is from cameras on longline fishing boats.”
Now TNC is looking to test the algorithm in a production environment in collaboration with Electronic Monitoring (EM) vendors. A blog by Intel mentions that review of EM footage by machine learning algorithms could cut time involvement from 40 hours down to a handful of hours.
There is also the Global Fishing Watch that analyzes data (collected by satellites and terrestrial receivers) from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to ‘identify patterns’ on the movement of vessels over time. The company has developed its AI platform, which is applied to analyze this data.
A report (2017) based on the analysis of this data revealed that in the past five years, there were more than 86,000 potential cases in which fishing vessels transferred their catch to refrigerated cargo ships at sea—a practice called transshipment—which in many cases facilitates illegal activities.
A September 2017 report by Oceana based on advanced data by Global Fishing Watch reveals unlawful fishing activities, authorized by four European countries, in the waters of The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea between April 2012 and August 2015.
Other than AI, there are projects around IoT and blockchain. Provenance is working towards greater transparency in the fishing industry by tracing the origins and histories of products by combining RFID tags with the blockchain. Hyperledger Sawtooth, another project, is using distributed ledger technology and IoT to turn the traditionally opaque supply chain into a transparent one.
These advanced technologies can bring a sense of transparency—right from the fishing net to the plate—which is vital to eradicating illegal, unsustainable fishing and the human rights abuses within the sector. With technology coming of age, the global fishing industry may be able to build a robust, secure, decentralized, traceable and tamper-proof end-to-end system that shatters the complex, opaque and corruptible systems currently prevalent.