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Sustainable Fisheries need Big Data Analytics

The world’s marine fisheries support billions of people around the world, contribute USD 100 billion each year, and support about 260 million jobs in the global economy. But increasingly, fisheries are subject to overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss. Sustainable fisheries management has never been more urgently needed, yet it faces a significant challenge – data management.

New technologies are introduced for industrial vessels every day: fuel and gear sensors, cameras onboard, electronic catch reports, and more, all in addition to the existing VMS transponders.  It is a challenge to know which equipment to choose, and often new hardware is added without a clear plan of how to use the data it will provide.

Moreover, there is a global push to track small-scale fishing vessels. In the next few years, Fisheries Monitoring Centers will have to adjust from tracking a few hundred vessels to tens of thousands of vessels. Such a massive increase, together with more equipment on large vessels, means huge quantities of data.

The Future of Fisheries

To make sense of all this information, it must be properly analyzed and correlated. Yet data management has been a neglected subject compared to high-tech equipment, although data is a valuable asset. The future of fisheries depends on big data analytics.

Big data offers vital tools for managing fisheries. For example, fishing trips could be tailored to meet quotas in the shortest time frame, reducing fuel consumption and crew costs. Real-time catch data could help administrations close a fishing zone immediately once quota is reached, rather than weeks later using paper logbooks and hours of human analysis. Fishing ministries need to move fast to preserve Marine Protected Areas and their fish stocks.

Barriers to Overcome

Effectively making use of data means more than installing software. Anyone applying big data has to address the five ‘V’s; velocity, variety, volume, veracity and value. This means that to generate useful information, you must address the velocity (speed) of processing, handle the wide variety of types of data, manage a massive volume, ensure accuracy, and confirm that the data has value for the output desired.

Today, much fisheries data is still recorded on paper or in a variety of Excel files, with the associated risks of being lost, incomplete, inaccurate, or difficult to use. A fleet manager examining multiple spreadsheets will find it hard to identify the decisions to be taken.

Finally, big data may involve a cultural shift, as fishermen have traditionally been reluctant to share their information. Knowledge and fishing spots are closely guarded and in increasingly difficult market conditions, fishermen want to keep their data secure as it represents competitive advantage. Flag states want to protect their resources and the sovereignty of their EEZ (exclusive economic zone), making data security a crucial issue for them as well. This barrier can be overcome if they make sure to choose analytics providers that guarantee data security and where they retain ownership of their data.

Big Data for Fisheries in Practice

In 2018, CLS Fisheries started working with one of its clients to develop a business intelligence platform (DOLFIN). The client, one of the biggest fishing companies in North America, had a wealth of information generated by their vessels, which carry more than 100,000 tons of yellowfin tuna each year.

The company began by identifying the client’s primary output need – an intuitive dashboard offering clear insights. The next challenge was to see which data would provide that result. CLS quickly realized that incorporating vessel data, catch data, VMS, logbooks and sensor data was not enough; oceanographic data was needed as well – a massive amount to process.  Data mining techniques were then used to identify the most interesting correlations.

The resulting dashboard allows fisheries scientists to search by zone, species type, vessel, and period. DOLFIN mines 20 years of ocean and fisheries data, allowing fishermen to optimize their fleet strategy. The results enable captains to decide where to go before leaving the harbor; this optimizes the time spent to reach quotas. Fisheries administrations can monitor catch efforts over an entire region and decide which zones to close, improving management of stocks and the fishing licenses they issue. In addition, some governments give fuel allowances, and this could be better managed and distributed according to a vessel’s behavior.

The insights provided by big data and advanced analytics offer a valuable way forward for all parties, both regulatory authorities and fishermen. These new techniques enable them to capitalize on their data, which is an asset. Fisheries information needs to be given more attention as we transition not only to a more sustainable Blue Economy, but also to the Knowledge Economy. Neglecting data assets means losing efficiency and resources. Adopting advanced data analytics right now is the key to succeeding in the future of fisheries.

Read the article in Sea Technology, p. 41

Luis DiazLuis DIAZ, Head of Business Development, CLS Fisheries Division  

With master’s degrees in engineering and international business, Luis advises fisheries ministries, regional commissions, and fishing fleet owners on sustainable fisheries management. His passion is bringing the latest innovations in data analytics to fisheries and he has worked in close collaboration with clients to develop DOLFIN, a new data mining service for fleet owners, and an electronic monitoring system for fisheries administrations using Artificial Intelligence.