EDF Launches Smart Boat Initiative to Help Recover Global Fisheries

New initiative to harness digital revolution to accelerate sustainable networked fisheries

March 6, 2019
Matt Smelser, +1 347.721.4592, msmelser@edf.org
Tad Segal, +1 202.572.3549, tsegal@edf.org

(Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – March 6, 2019) Today at the World Ocean Summit being held in Abu Dhabi, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) announced the launch of its Smart Boat Initiative designed to accelerate the exploration and adoption of powerful new technologies to greatly improve sustainability, efficiency and profitability in the fishing sector across the globe.

The new initiative focuses on leveraging the technological advances and plummeting costs in sensors, artificial intelligence, broadband communication and data analytics to equip and surround fishing vessels of all sizes with digital tools and infrastructure that can increase sustainability, accountability and transparency in fishing.

“Just as smart phones provided a platform for a wave of innovation, we believe there is an equally unprecedented opportunity to usher in a new era of sustainability in the global fishing sector led by digital transformation,” said Katie McGinty, Senior Vice President, EDF Oceans program.

The Smart Boat Initiative builds on important work being done by a variety of other NGOs, academic institutions, businesses and governments all focused on deploying technology in the service of sustainability. EDF’s goal is to work with these stakeholders and fishermen to demonstrate the transformative power of technology with on-the-water pilot projects, scientific inquiries and policy advances across a variety of fishery types and scales.

As part of the Smart Boat Initiative, EDF Oceans released a new report on the significant opportunities of using advanced technologies to help fisheries and fishing businesses, two new guides on how to implement electronic monitoring technology, as well as the results from recent pilot projects on the U.S. West Coast and in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

With this initiative, EDF aims to address the critical problem of fishing vessels and fleets remaining isolated and disconnected when at sea. This means accurate and timely data about what is being caught and discarded rarely reaches scientists and managers. Even on vessels with human observers or new electronic monitoring systems, data can take weeks or even months to reach the end user. Meanwhile, fishermen at sea lack access to oceanographic, market and other real-time data that could inform their choices about where and how to fish.

These problems can be addressed through a combination of existing technologies that can be deployed on fishing vessels – and around them – at a variety of scales. For example, cameras on fishing vessels can be linked to pneumatic sensors and triggered only when fishing activity occurs. These data can then be highly compressed and transmitted wirelessly through broadband satellite or near-shore wireless data services. Artificial intelligence can also recognize species and help track catch. Scientists can access these data in near real time and make far better decisions about fishery health than ever before. And fishermen will have better access to supply chains and better information out at sea.

“This new initiative seeks to deploy technology to help solve one of the most urgent challenges of our time, overfishing,” said McGinty. “A critical element of the initiative is that it aims to provide fishermen with the tools to play a leading role in solving that problem.”

Even in countries with advanced management like the U.S., fishery monitoring is conducted with outdated systems, often a human observer using pen and paper. In countries with a higher proportion of small-scale fisheries, the data information gap is even more acute. As a part of the Smart Boat Initiative, EDF is bringing together learnings from pilot programs in both commercial and artisanal fisheries that put cameras and telecommunications technology on vessels in order to track and record information to inform policy, science and management.

“In far too many fisheries, a lack of timely data frustrates even the best of intentions,” said Project Director Johanna Thomas. “But most fishermen want access to more powerful tools to take control of their futures and work together to deliver both business and conservation outcomes.”

EDF is also releasing two new guides on electronic monitoring focused on a wide variety of fishing scenarios from near-shore small-scale fisheries to larger fleets. These guides will provide insights to help develop best-in-class standards. They are designed to provide information on how best to use and scale these technologies in ways that can inform good science, work financially for fishermen and governments and produce positive conservation outcomes for fisheries.

“We believe this set of technologies represents widespread benefits, not only for future conservation, but also for fishermen today,” said McGinty.  “But without more work to refine these technologies, build them with fishermen’s needs in mind, increase deployment and share best practices, fisheries will remain stuck in the digital dark ages. That’s why we’ve launched the Smart Boat Initiative and why we’re optimistic about the future health of the ocean and all those who depend on it.”

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