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Reel Tech: Innovation for sustainable fisheries

It’s World Fisheries Day - focussed on highlighting the importance of sustainable stocks of fisheries in the world, to support the sustainability of coastal and fishing communities and to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Put simply, a fishery is an expansive term, covering an area where fish or other aquatic life are caught, harvested, or cultivated for commercial, recreational, or subsistence purposes. “Fisheries” are usually defined by government bodies, or the community that is responsible for the sustained use of this resource, and as a result  activities and management practices vary across geography and culture. 

In the face of dynamic changes in the marine environment, longstanding management practices that have historically supported generations of fishers now necessitate increasing granularity in monitoring and data collection. This refinement is essential for acquiring comprehensive information, indispensable for the sustainable management of a threatened resource. 

The next big question is how we do this. Currently, the answer is, slowly due to sheer scale, data processing times and the granularity required to make accurate decisions and increase awareness and education amongst local communities and policy makers.  

Like the target species themselves, fishers have had to adapt to a changing climate in order to sustain their business without over-exploiting local resources. The northward shift of the Gulf of Maine’s Lobster fishery is a prime example of this response. Driven by systematic monitoring of both lobster movement directly, and the collection of oceanographic data and study of lobster habitat itself, a consensus was reached that the industry would have to migrate further North within the Gulf to sustain itself, and introduce more stringent measures to reduce the capture of juvenile individuals. Observational data, scientific research, and collaboration with the fishing community collectively revealed the northward shift in lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine.

This combination of scientific research and collaboration is a case study to strive for, which can only be enabled when all relevant stakeholders have access to recent, spatially explicit data on their environment.

Where does ACUA come in?

ACUA Ocean changes the game when it comes to conservation whether that’s through holistic natural capital assessment or actual monitoring of marine protected areas. Fisheries are an integral part to both of these things.

In order for fish and fisheries to thrive, their populations need to be given the space and time to recover, one way in which we’ve tried to do this is through Marine Protected Areas. Problem being, actually protecting these areas can be quite difficult due to geographic scale, operating challenges and resources available. 

The monitoring of MPAs for illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activity is vital, as this activity undermines policy put in place to provide sustainable, long term use of fish stocks. The sensor array designed for the ACUA Ocean platform includes long range camera technology, for the observation of IUU fishing, in order to both enable prosecutions for this activity, and also to serve as a baseline for the level of activity that currently goes unreported. 

Current active monitoring by crewed vessels is both a time-consuming and expensive process, which can often prove ineffective, when vessels large enough to hold a large, rotating crew are easily spotted and evaded. A smaller vessel, running on long deployments, collecting information using high resolution cameras is better suited to collecting evidence of illegal operations and supporting efforts to enforce policy designed for sustainable management of fishing in ways that cannot be achieved through satellite data alone The data supplied can also be used to calibrate satellite radar data, quantifying the number of boats in a region, compared with the number that are using Automatic Identification System (AIS) data for tracking and accountability.

Fisheries are also a key component of a Natural Capital Assessment (NCA). Unlike most other components to a marine NCA, fisheries already have a financial worth attributed to them. Through a holistic suite of sensors ACUA will be gathering information about the holistic state of the marine environment and ocean health, using data relevant to global trends of climate change, such as marine alkalinity and chemistry at the ocean-atmosphere atmosphere interface, as well the more acute problems related to marine resource management. 

Unified thinking on the global impact of environmental and human data on fisheries is a rare and invaluable asset in ensuring the sustainability of fishing activities and subsequently worldwide. ACUA Ocean is dedicated to collecting this crucial information, empowering stakeholders in the fishing industry to make well-informed decisions for the benefit of the ocean.


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