The information age is beginning to change fishing throughout the world.

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The information age is beginning to change fishing throughout the world.


People in the developed world live in a post-industrial period, primarily working in service or knowledge sectors. Sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are rapidly being used by manufacturers to replace or improve the efficiency of human work. Farmers may use drones to spray pesticides and fertilisers while also monitoring crop health through satellite.

Commercial fishing, one of the world's oldest enterprises, is a notable exception. In much of the world, industrial fishing, with factory ships and deep-sea trawlers landing hundreds of tonnes of fish at a time, remains the dominating hunting style.

This technique has resulted in overfishing, stock depletion, habitat devastation, the mindless slaughter of undesired bycatch, and the waste of up to 30% to 40% of landed fish. Industrial fishing has decimated artisanal and pre-industrial fleets throughout Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.

Rather as fresh homegrown food from the sea, the end result is mostly a commodity that moves across the world like a manufactured item or digital money. According to sustainable-fishing activists, the average fish travels 5,000 kilometres before reaching a plate. Some is frozen and sent to Asia for processing before being refrozen and returned to the United States.

However, these tendencies are beginning to shift. "The Blue Revolution: Hunting, Harvesting, and Farming Seafood in the Information Age," my latest book, describes how commercial fishing has began a hopeful move toward a less destructive, more transparent post-industrial age. This is true in the United States, Scandinavia, the majority of Europe, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and much of South America.

Using data to fish

·         Throughout the fishing sector, changes in behaviour, technology, and regulation are taking place. Here are a couple such examples:

·         An worldwide NGO, Global Fishing Watch, analyses and provides open-access visualisations of global fishing activity on the internet with a 72-hour delay. This breakthrough in openness has resulted in the arrest and conviction of owners and commanders of illegally fishing vessels.

·         An multinational business-to-business effort, the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability, develops voluntary industry standards for seafood traceability. These guidelines are intended to assist unify the numerous systems that monitor seafood along the supply chain so that they all gather the same important information and use the same data sources. This information informs consumers about the origins of their seafood and if it was produced in a sustainable manner.

·         Fishing boats in New Bedford, Massachusetts - the top U.S. fishing port in terms of overall catch value – are outfitted with sensors in order to create a Marine Data Bank, which will provide fishermen with information on ocean temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels. By linking this data to real stock behaviour and capture levels, fishermen will be able to target specific species while avoiding inadvertent bycatch.

·         Annual catch restrictions, distributed through individual quotas for each fisherman, have assisted in reducing overfishing. Imposing catch shares may be very contentious, yet since 2000, 47 overfished and closed U.S. stocks have been repaired and reopened for fishing, owing to policy decisions based on the best available science. Examples include Bering Sea snow crab, North Atlantic swordfish, and Gulf of Mexico red grouper.

·         For more than a decade, a developing "fishie" locavore movement has been gaining traction, mirroring the ubiquitous "foodie" locavore movement. Taking a cue from agriculture, community-supported fisheries subscribers pay in advance for regular delivery from local fishermen. Such interaction between customers and producers is beginning to change purchasing habits and introduce consumers to new varieties of fish that are plentiful but not iconic, such as cod.

Land-based fish farming

Aquaculture is the world's fastest-growing method of food production, headed by China. The United States, which has exclusive jurisdiction over 3.4 million square miles of ocean, controls just 1% of the world market.

However, behind lobsters and scallops, aquaculture (mostly shellfish and kelp) is the third-largest fisheries industry in the Greater Atlantic area. Entrepreneurs are also raising finfish – including salmon, branzino, barramundi, steelhead, eels and kingfish – mostly in large, land-based recirculating systems that reuse 95% or more of their water.

In the 1990s, industrial-scale ocean salmon farming in Norway was primarily responsible for the idea that farmed fish were harmful to wild fish and ocean environments. This sector has since shifted to less dense deep-water offshore pens or land-based recirculating systems.

Almost all new salmon farms in the United States – in Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, and many in Maine and California – are on land. Aquaponics is a method in which water from fish tanks runs through greenhouses to grow vegetables or hemp.

Proposals to allow ocean farming in US federal seas between 3 and 200 miles offshore have sparked fierce discussion. Whatever the conclusion, it is apparent that the United States will be unable to decrease, and may possibly increase, its $17 billion seafood trade imbalance without a growing mariculture business.

China is a ravenous consumer.

This type of advancement is not widespread in the fishing sector. Notably, China is the world's leading seafood producer, accounting for 15% of worldwide wild capture and 60% of aquaculture production. Chinese fishing has a significant impact on the waters. Observers believe that China's fishing fleet might number up to 800,000 vessels, with a distant-water fleet of up to 17,000 vessels, compared to 300 for the United States.

According to a research conducted by the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana utilising Global Fishing Watch data, Chinese vessels fished for 47 million hours between 2019 and 2021. More than 20% of this activity occurred on the high seas or within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of more than 80 additional countries. It is prohibited for Chinese vessels to fish in the waterways of other nations without authorisation. Chinese ships frequently visit West African, South American, Mexican, and Korean ports.

Most Chinese long-distance ships are so enormous that they can capture as much fish in a week as small boats from Senegal or Mexico can in a year. Without government subsidies, most of this fishing would be unprofitable. Maintaining healthy global fisheries clearly requires forcing China to greater standards.

The healing power of the ocean

There is no shortage of depressing evidence on how overfishing, combined with other stressors such as climate change, is hurting the world's seas. Nonetheless, according to the United Nations, more than 78 percent of current marine fish landings originate from ecologically viable sources. And, with careful management, overfished fisheries may typically recover.

For example, the US east coast scallop fishery, which was almost non-existent in the mid-1990s, is now a US$570 million-per-year sector.

Cabo Pulmo, a five-mile stretch of beachfront on Mexico's Baja Peninsula, is another success story. Cabo Pulmo, formerly a popular fishing spot, was depleted of fish in the early 1990s due to overfishing. The local communities then convinced the Mexican government to designate the region as a marine park, with fishing prohibited.

"Cabo Pulmo was an underwater desert in 1999." "It was a kaleidoscope of life and colour ten years later," biologist Enric Sala, head of National Geographic's Pristine Seas Project, remarked in 2018.

According to scientists, marine life at Cabo Pulmo has rebounded to the point where it is equivalent to remote, pristine places that have never been fished. Fishing outside of the preserve has also recovered, demonstrating that conservation and fishing are not mutually exclusive. That, in my opinion, is an excellent starting point for a post-industrial ocean future.

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