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With Precision Fishing, Humans and the Ocean can Thrive Together


The ultimate goal of Precision Fishing is to take the uncertainty out of fishing. Using a variety of innovative solutions, we can better understand the ocean, fish stocks and improve the selectivity of fishing gear. As a result, fishers can be sure that they get the results they want each time they cast their nets.

Why do we need Precision Fishing?

The world’s fish consumption is predicted to increase by a further ~20% by 2030 (FAO, 2020). But as the demand for fish is increasing, many fish stocks are dwindling. To compensate for decreased catch, fishing operations have ventured further from coastal regions to the high seas. As a result, fishing activities now occur in 90% of the world’s oceans.

Against a backdrop of increasing fish consumption, the fishing process is indiscriminate and wasteful. Current estimates state that one in every ten fish caught are unwanted species, known as bycatch (FAO,2018). These fish will not end up on your dinner plate, leading to large amounts of wastage and lost earnings for the fishing vessels. Furthermore, this results in unnecessary damage to ocean biodiversity. Compounding this is a lack of data about fish stocks and landings, which makes improved management of fisheries slow and difficult.

However, this is not the fault of the fishing crews nor is it the fault of the supply chains, retailers, or consumers. The fishing industry is lacking the appropriate tools to responsibly meet demand whilst overcoming these problems. Thankfully, Precision Fishing can provide these tools, therefore, allowing the fishing industry to optimise fishing efforts whilst directly tackling the main issues.

What is Precision Fishing?

Precision Fishing can be defined as the use of advanced tools and technologies to optimise fishing operations and management (Costello, 2016). It is referred to as “precision” as these tools make it possible to monitor fish stocks in near real-time, catch the right fish and perform the right interventions to protect fish stocks and the marine ecosystem. We can achieve this by using technology to observe, measure and respond to variability in commercial fish populations.

This form of high-tech fishing enables us to harvest only what we need from the oceans, thereby reducing our negative impact on them. Recent estimates state that with improved management, the ocean could sustainably provide six times more food than it currently does. Precision Fishing can help support these efforts, so we can have our fish and eat them too.  

What’s happening where?

To be able to optimise fishing efforts, you first need to observe when, where and how fishing is taking place and what is being caught. Effective fisheries management is dependent on reliable and consistent data on fishing effort, bycatch and compliance with regulations. Traditionally, this data has been collected through paper logbooks, independent observers and surveys. Independent observers on fishing boats have been the primary source of this data. However, these observers are expensive and as a result, many fisheries lack the observer coverage needed to make informed management decisions. Furthermore, for Precision Fishing to work, these gaps in fishing data must be filled.

Thankfully, electronic monitoring is a cost-effective way to gather fishing data. It involves using technology to gather fishing data with greater accuracy and coverage whilst still being cost-effective. In its most basic form, it involves electronic reporting of the fishing trip by the fishing crew. Additionally, electronic monitoring equipment may also be utalised. These include onboard video cameras that record the location and hauls.

Underwater cameras are also being developed that can attach to fishing nets. They give fishing crews a rare view into their nets providing useful insight into how fish behave in nets and if bycatch mitigation methods, like square mesh panels, are working as they should.

Typically, footage collected by electronic monitoring systems is stored on a hard drive for later inspection. However, new data platforms are being made that allow data to be transmitted straight from the boat to a cloud platform to be stored. Here the data is analysed and presented in graphs. Generally, data analysis is still conducted by trained people, however new AI is being developed to speed up this process.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure

An advanced ability to measure and analyse data forms the foundation of Precision Fishing. However, we do not have reliable ocean data for more than  90% of the world’s oceans. Currently, most fisheries have limited data on their target catch, and often fish stock assessments are carried out yearly. However, there is a lag between the data collection and appropriate action being taken. By the time the data has been analysed and fisheries management plans are made, they may no longer be relevant. Furthermore, what fishing crews experience at sea may not resemble scientific advice.

Scotland’s two largest fishing associations (SFA and SWFPA) are calling for a panel to review stock assessments after quota advice for Northeast Atlantic mackerel varied wildly in recent years. They state that erroneous fisheries management can lead to fishing crews missing out on catching opportunities (The Fishing Daily, 2021).

Precision Fishing provides an opportunity to keep up with highly dynamic ocean ecosystems. This is particularly useful as climate change rapidly alters our oceans. Using sensors, cameras, satellite imagery and other technology, we can improve our ability to measure the oceans and fish stocks. Through these tools, we can collect data faster with greater accuracy and precision with larger spatial coverage resulting in more regular and reliable assessments of fish stocks.

Better decisions, better results

It is hard to know where fish stocks are. Fishers mostly rely on years of experience and intuition to decide where, when, and how to fish. Despite their skill and the use of modern techniques, fishing crews still have little control over what ends up in their nets once they are deployed in the water. Additionally, ocean ecosystems are changing at an unprecedented rate. For example, distributions of North Sea cod have shifted further and further north due to warming ocean temperatures (Engelhard et al., 2014).  . These factors, in combination with the potential for reduced catches due to reduced fish stocks, make it vital for fishers to know exactly where, when, and how to fish to meet increasing demand.

The detection of fish can be improved with Precision Fishing. Fish distribution and migration are influenced by many ocean conditions such as temperature, depth, salinity, and plankton abundance. By understanding how fish interact with these factors, fisheries can predict fish movement and effectively respond to changes.

Using ocean data, one team has developed the EcoCast Map, which provides daily recommendations about where to fish by showing where the highest likelihood of target catch is (Hazan et al, 2018). Not only could this map increase the efficiency of fishing operations, but it could also help fishing crews avoid bycatch.

Catching the right fish

Even if you know exactly where and when to fish, there is no guarantee that you will only catch your target fish. The oceans are beautifully diverse, so the likelihood of accidentally catching the wrong species is high. Known as bycatch, the wrong species can include different species of fish, sharks, dolphins, turtles, and birds. This isn’t usually the intent of the fishing crews. In most cases, fishers will go out of their way to avoid bycatch because they may get fined, and larger species can damage their nets.

Unfortunately, the design of fishing gear doesn’t fully address biological variation leading to limited selectivity. In other words, fishing gear is great at catching a lot of things, but not yet great at only catching the right fish.

Precision Fishing tackles this problem by giving fishers greater control of their catch compositions using innovative technology. Often these devices can be easily retrofitted onto the existing fishing gear. For example, Pisces uses configurable LED lights to either attract target fish, scare away the wrong species or act as an exit sign, guiding bycatch to square mesh panels where they can escape. Other sensory methods for reducing bycatch also exist, for instance, Fishtek Marine is a company that creates acoustic pingers that use pulses of sound to scare away dolphins and whales from fishing nets.

Benefits of Precision Fishing

With Precision Fishing, everybody wins. Fishers can optimise their efforts whilst fishing more sustainably, thereby maintaining their industry as good stewards of the ocean’s future. This type of approach to fishing generates a two-fold advantage:

For the fishing industry, it can optimise fishing efforts and resources leading to lower running costs. If large-scale fishing companies move to a model of Precision Fishing, they could see annual savings of $11 billion due to reduced running costs (Costello, 2016). Fishing crews can also see their operating costs reduce and revenues increase. Firstly, achieving a catch that is almost void of bycatch can reduce sorting time by up to 90%. Secondly, knowing exactly where, when, and how to fish reduces the time needed at sea. Therefore, fishers could see their fuel costs decrease by 20%.

For the environment, the implementation of Precision Fishing would significantly reduce unnecessary wastage of 9.1 million tonnes of fish per year (FAO,2018). Additionally, a better understanding of overexploited fish stocks would lead to more effective management, allowing these stocks to recover.

As worldwide demand for fish increases, the need for Precision Fishing is becoming increasingly urgent. The global population is growing fast and is estimated to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050. Already, one-fifth of the world’s population is dependent on seafood as their primary source of protein and by 2050 fish will become an even more essential source of protein for billions of people. It is vital that we can meet the growing need for fish without overexploiting ocean resources. Precision Fishing is the only way we can implement sustainable food production in the oceans.

Where does SafetyNet Technologies fit into all this? 

At SafetyNet Technologies, we are designing and building trusted and valued solutions that enable Precision Fishing. Our goal is to help create a world where the ocean and humans can thrive together. We’re doing this by developing new products that use a data-driven approach to help the fishing industry fish responsibly whilst reducing waste across the supply chain. Our products are designed with fishers, for fishers, using a human-centred design approach.

Are you curious to know how Precision Fishing could apply to you? We will be hosting free advisory sessions for anyone working in the fishing industry. Tell us about your fishing challenges, and let us find potential precision fishing solutions that could work for you. We’re hosting a limited number of sessions between 17th-24th June, so sign up today here.


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