The role of big data and AI in the seafood industry

Will new technologies be able to smoothen the journey of fish, from the shore to the customer's plate?
14 September 2018

Technology can transform how people procure their fish. Source: Shutterstock

People love seafood. It’s a delicacy in many parts of the world, with different preparations and varieties on the menu.

However, good fish is difficult to buy. Whether it is New York, Chicago, or London — restaurants and supermarkets rarely have healthy, wild-caught fish to offer.

Instead, customers end up buying farmed and maybe drug-laden varieties of the fish they truly desire. There’s definitely a trust issue in the seafood market.

Further, reports of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing are rising every day. In fact, some experts believe that as much as 20 percent of the global seafood catch is IUU and costs the global economy US$23 billion annually.

Finally, according to Reuters, global marine catches have declined by 1.2 million tonnes a year since 1996 — making IUU fishing even more challenging.

Does that mean the era of fresh, delightful seafood has come to an end? Maybe not. It seems like technology has an enterprise-grade solution to this problem as well.

Big data and AI in the seafood industry

There are several solutions that big data and AI can offer to the seafood industry.

Whether it is to help fisheries use satellite and sensor data to find the right place to send their trawlers or allow regulators at the dock verify and document the catch, there’s no denying the value delivered to stakeholders.

Here are two use cases that show how big data and AI can prevent IUU fishing and make the seafood industry more sustainable:

Replacing the human observer

While 90 percent of the fish consumed by America is imported, the remaining is done under very strict guidelines to ensure the safety of people and the sustainability of those that live in the sea.

In New England, for example, fishing trawlers need to have a human observer on board, to ensure that they’re not catching more fishes than they’re allowed to.

Recently, they were allowed to use cameras to record and machine learning to count and identify species of fish (instead of hiring real people), which significantly brought down their costs, and improved transparency and reporting.

Knowing where to fish

At the moment, there’s plenty of fish in the sea — provided you’re not looking for delicacies such as Neptune Grouper and Australian Flathead Perch.

There are plenty of pockets in the sea that can provide fisheries with a desirable haul, provided they know where to look. And that’s where big data and AI come into the picture.

There’s data everywhere. From scientific research to satellite records and weather reports. All of this can be used by AI to determine where it would be safe and sustainable (and feasible) to send a trawler.

Blockchain is also making a debut

For those in the technology industry, blockchain is a topic that has been discussed time and again — its potential has been hyped for a long time and yet, nothing has been seen outside the financial services sector.

However, experts believe that the seafood industry is on the brink of establishing a new blockchain framework to serve as the single source of truth, and the torch-bearer of transparency.

The World Wildlife Fund and other organizations are experimenting with solutions to make this possible, and they hope that the technology’s transparency and immutability will restore trust in the industry.

With technology working behind the scenes for the seafood industry, it is expected to smoothen the journey from the shore to the customer’s plate. Soon.