Camera used for electronic monitoring (center frame) are mounted in a protective housing aboard a fishing boat © David Hills Photography

New Fish Tech to Help Manage Fisheries for Sustainability Gets a Greenlight

These days, most headlines about the world’s fisheries are heavy on a vocabulary of loss and resignation. There’s overfishing, illegal fishing and the problems of bycatch. Then there are the results of those activities – collapsing fisheries, broken communities, lost livelihoods, poor nutrition and destruction of healthy ocean ecosystems.

But disaster is not the only story. The truth is: the world does not have to be resigned to a diminished future for fish and fishing because we live in a time of unprecedented innovations to solve one of the central challenges – the Gordian Knot – of managing fisheries for sustainability: the lack of data.

In April 2017, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, responsible for managing West Coast fisheries in U.S. federal waters, announced that it had approved regulations for the use of electronic equipment – cameras, sensors and other gear – to monitor fishing in the West Coast Groundfish fishery.

This approval of electronic monitoring by one of 8 regional fishery management councils, ushers in a new technology for data collection that will help not just fisheries in California, but fisheries around the world as well.

Unraveling Knotty Problems One Thread at a Time

Getting fisheries data reliably and relatively cheaply is a problem the Conservancy has been working on all over the world for more than a decade. Like the work on electronic monitoring in California, Conservancy scientists in New England and in the Western and Central Pacific are also working in partnership with fishermen to test the efficacy of electronic monitoring for managing fisheries. In the Pacific tuna fisheries, the Conservancy and its partners are taking electronic monitoring a step farther — pioneering solutions that pair electronic monitoring with Artificial Intelligence to identify when a fish is caught and what kind of fish it is from cameras mounted on longline fishing boats.

“Everybody understands,” notes Kate Kauer, Fisheries Project Director for The Nature Conservancy, “no matter what part of fishing you work on or care about – fisherman, scientist, manager, seafood supplier, seafood consumer – you really need accurate, timely information to make good decisions. Getting that information, that reliable, consistent data, is the most challenging part of managing fisheries effectively. The approval of electronic monitoring is a big step forward in getting good data, both reliably and relatively cheaply.”

One of the most forward-thinking laboratories of innovation in managing fisheries for sustainability is found in a successful, long-running collaboration between Conservancy scientists, resource managers and commercial fishermen in California.

“One reason we lack the right data is that collecting verifiable information about fishing activity out at sea is typically very expensive and difficult,” says Kauer, who works closely with the fishermen and managers. “California’s groundfish fishery presented the…