Innovation in fisheries: Five examples from around the world

Using Tech to Avoid By CatchBy Trevor Clarke, Tech Research Asia co-founder and director

Globally and within Australia the fisheries industry is faced with similar challenges and opportunities. Indeed, there are universal themes, especially in the commercial wild catch sector. Most of these trends – like declining fish stocks, the move to aquaculture, and the industrialisation of ocean fleets that are travelling ever further distances to name but three out of many – have been known for some time. But efforts to innovate with digital technology to solve these issues has arguably been slower than comparative efforts in other industries, including its cousin agriculture. As move into 2017, there is still less focus on innovation in fisheries than other industries in TRA’s opinion. However, there are several signs of change. Below we introduce five of them to provide some insight and, hopefully, inspiration for your organisation.

#1 – Start Ups Addressing By-Catch

By-catch is an all-too-familiar issue for fisheries industries around the world. Many approaches have been trialled to try and reduce by-catch both for conservation and economic reasons. This ranges from changing net designs to the application of video recognition and/or hydroacoustic (SONAR) tools. TRA contends it is fair to say that while many of these efforts have shown promise over many years, none are yet to win over the industry and relevant authorities to become standard operating equipment common to all vessels. Indeed, by-catch remains a significant global problem. Enter the start-up movement and their many well-resourced backers.

Hailing from the United States, one of the most high-profile fisheries start-ups of the last couple of years is Smart Catch. The company’s aim is to help fishing operators be more profitable and at the same time more sustainable by giving them more visibility and control on what is in their nets pre-catch. The start-up’s first product is called DigiCatch, which it says is, “is a real-time remotely controllable HD video, lighting and sensor system that gives you eyes inside your net and allows you to virtually see in the dark in order to monitor your trawl”. Data and vision captured from the remotely operated device – which can be retrofitted to any nets – is captured in a data hub and can enable real time decisions to be made on whether to haul a catch or conduct pre-catch release. Thus, reducing the amount of by-catch, helping with compliance, and offering a set of unique data to help with future analysis and business performance.

There are several more start-ups and inventors striving to provide solutions to the by-catch challenge. TRA expects far greater innovation in this area. For instance, another example that has emerged in 2016 out of the Australian edition of Google’s Impact Challenge is FishFace. An idea of The Nature Conservancy, FishFace will be developed by the Swedish firm, Refind Technologies and use facial recognition technology to, as it says, “automate the collation, at sea, of information on the species and numbers of fish caught, and use this data to inform management decisions. The first steps are to trial the technology in Indonesia’s deep-water snapper and grouper fisheries.

#2 The Hackathons

Hackathons are now a regular feature in cities and organisations around the world. Their goals are varied and success rates differ widely. However, at their core, hackathons are about bringing together people to try and use technology to solve a nominated challenge, often in a day or a weekend, and frequently for prizes (including seed funding for start-ups). Australia, like other countries, has many examples of this including GovHack, PolicyHack, HackFood, and Agrihack. Fisheries also has several examples of these events now also being held, both around the world. For example:

Fishackathon was borne out of the US Department of State in 2015 and is now hosted yearly in 43 cities (likely to be more in 2017). This included Sydney at the University of New South Wales in April this year and supported by the AFMA. The winner of the Sydney hackathon, Fillet Finder, received $2,000. (We note, however, that the Android version of this app appears to have only been downloaded less than 50 times.)

The WA Department of Fisheries participated in the Perth iteration of GovHack in 2016 offering a prize and opening up its data on sharks.

In 2014 the WWF ran a hackathon called the Smart Gear Competition which aimed to address issues in fisheries through technology. It offered an award of $30,000 to the winning team, which was a Norwegian group that developed an air cannon which shoots a sampling tube 40-50 meters off a vessel and into a net to collect a sample of the fish to determine what species are present and avoid by-catch.

#3 Traceability

It is clear many consumers in many countries want to know where their food comes from. They want to be able to trace its origins and make informed decisions about what they eat. In the contemporary diversified and sometimes global nature of the food supply chain enabling this has proven somewhat of a challenge. Yet, many start-ups are now trying to apply digital technologies and approaches to help consumers, producers, and the rest of the food ecosystem be informed. This includes fisheries. Some examples of new approaches to traceability include:

ThisFish is a Canadian start-up that provides a platform for connecting fish harvesters and end consumers of the product. In short, once caught a harvester can tag their fish with a unique code and enter the information into the ThisFish system. Supply chain participants can also add their own information before the end consumer receives the product and can effectively trace the story of their fish back to its origins. Harvesters can also trace where their product is being consumed.

Salty Girl Seafood is similar to ThisFish but based in the US and offering its own shopping website.

Verifik8 is a start-up based in Thailand that provides a data capture, verification and analytics service for aquaculture operators and their supply chains. Both manual and automated (machine to machine) data can be entered into the system and verified.

#4 Digital Fisheries Marketplaces

The platform-based marketplaces and apps that have been built for industries like accommodation, transport, and freelance work, are now also being used to connect fishing operators directly with consumers and restaurants.

One example of this is Sea2Table – This US-based start-up uses its platform to connect fishers at docks from Alaska to Maine with chefs at restaurants. The goal is to remove the middleman in the supply chain, give all parties greater visibility, and to ensure fresh fish are being delivered straight to restaurants.

Another similar example is Dock to Dish – also based in the US and using a similar platform model to Sea2Table, Dock to Dish connects fishermen with restaurants. The unique aspect of Dock to Dish is that in addition to data about the fish being delivered to restaurants, they also include real stories about the fish and those who caught it.

#5 The Pitch Competitions

Like hackathons, pitch competitions are now a staple event on the yearly calendar, especially in the world of technology start-ups and those looking to invest in their futures. Arguably one of the most relevant fisheries related pitch competitions is Fish 20. Starting in 2013, Fish 20, is a competition for start-ups and small companies that have technology-based solutions that pursue sustainable fishing practices. Participants in the competition pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that includes potential investors. So while it is a competition for start-ups, it is also a channel for investors. As such it is one of the only forums in the world that caters exclusively to those looking to apply technology to solve fisheries issues. Of note also is that the 2017 competition will include a dedicated track to Pacific fisheries start-ups. TRA expects more of these events to be held in future.