Fishing is a way of life for coastal communities around the world. An estimated four million fishing vessels sail the world’s oceans, providing fish for a global seafood market valued at over $120 billion.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of fish,” says Nick Wise, CEO of the nonprofit organization OceanMind. “There are three billion people in the world who rely on seafood as their primary source of protein, mostly in developing nations. Twelve percent of the world’s population relies on the wild-capture seafood industry directly or indirectly for their livelihoods.”
Overfishing — when fish is caught faster than stocks can replenish — is a significant factor in the decline of ocean wildlife populations, not least because of the bycatch of other marine life such as turtles and cetaceans. Each of these creatures is an important part of ecosystems and the biodiversity of the ocean.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates one-third of all fish stocks are now overfished and are no longer biologically sustainable. To fight back against this overfishing, OceanMind is using the power of AI to map data and then feeding that information to government authorities to help catch perpetrators.
Regional, national and international regulations are used to manage fishing efforts and can include restrictions on fishing out of season, using banned gear or techniques, or catching more than a set quota.
There are many ways of trying to catch those flouting the law, such as patrol boats, on-board cameras, and the remote electronic monitoring of discards.
Through a Microsoft AI for Earth grant, OceanMind is moving its data analytics to the Microsoft Azure cloud. “The collaboration with Microsoft is going to bring all of that data through our system much more quickly and apply the AI in near real time.”
That transformation will make a big difference to enforcement. Real-time monitoring will help authorities plan patrols that can catch illegal fishing as it happens.
It isn’t just governments and charities that are determined to do something about such concerning statistics. Consumers are increasingly worried about the state of our oceans, and they want to know the products they buy come from sustainable sources.
On World Oceans Day, June 8, events around the globe will be raising awareness of the importance of protecting biodiversity and looking after the marine environment.
Preventing overfishing and illegal fishing is an important part of that equation, ensuring that ecosystems are preserved.
The fact that consumers around the world are beginning to care about how their fish has been sourced is one step along that journey.
“It’s great that people are paying attention,” says Wise. “But illegal fishers be warned — our message is that we are paying attention every single day.”