Artificial intelligence coupled with drones and underwater sensors could guide ships to the most productive fishing spots, helping to use our time and fuel most efficiently. photo/123rf, file
Artificial intelligence can already do some great things, some revolutionary, some potentially frightening. There is a risk of disruption from fake political advertising, jitters about what this means for our jobs, and philosophical questions about what constitutes life.
But even in an industry not traditionally associated with high technology – New Zealand’s commercial fishing sector – there is great potential for good where we welcome it.
We can see the potential benefits to us as operators and everyone else involved in the fishery, from regulators to the people who enjoy eating our Kaimoana.
Why am I talking about AI and fishing right now? Not just because today is World Oceans Day (although the theme of changing tides fits that theme very well), but because the future of commercial fishing is at stake.
Rachel Brooking, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, presented the Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) at the end of April, which sets out a vision for the future of commercial fisheries in New Zealand.
In her foreword, the Minister says that fisheries play a key role in our future prosperity and recognizes that we face significant challenges. Our coastal fleet is ageing, costs are increasing and like many other companies in the primary sector, it is difficult to find enough workers. Perhaps the most difficult thing is that we are faced with a changing marine environment.
I joined other experts in the leadership group who had contributed to the drafting of the fisheries ITP. Everyone in this group is more than aware of the risks and threats. But if you look beyond the negative, you see something else.
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The Fisheries ITP Board speaks of a future based on respect and innovation as we fish with care and precision, where the impact of fishing on the seabed is minimal and we have a reduced carbon footprint.
In this future we can improve productivity and profitability and contribute to the success of our workforce and community.
You might think that’s idealistic, but I can envision a future where AI coupled with drones and underwater sensors will guide our ships to the most productive fishing spots, helping us use our time and fuel as efficiently as possible.
The same drones will tell us if we are near an endangered marine mammal, allowing us to change course.
Highly efficient engines also help save fuel, making fish one of the world’s lowest-carbon proteins.
Other AI monitors what enters our networks. If it detects an error, it can alert the captain. If there is a seal or something similar in the catch, a captain can remotely open the net and free the animal.
In this future, AI and new trawling technology will help us fly our trawl as far as possible across the seabed, and where contact is required, it will be short and light.
In this future, Kiwis can be justifiably proud of our world-class fishing industry that creates great jobs and supports families.
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AI helps us with traceability and efficient supply chains; We can enjoy affordable seafood and the world throngs to our door to buy our sustainable, low-carbon and delicious Kaimoana, boosting our economy and providing quota-owning Māori interests a great return on their investments.
Here’s the twist.
This is not a pipe dream. The vision is well on the way to becoming reality. Some of it already is.
Jeremy Helson. Photo / Delivered
We are developing the technology to open fishing nets underwater when a marine mammal is caught. This is being tested by New Zealand’s Precision Seafood Harvesting team, who have been working with the Department of Primary Industries and Plants and Food to develop a new style of trawling that is currently helping to improve the quality of the fish caught.
We already have a prototype AI used on fishing vessels to detect unwanted, accidental catches. Nelson fisherman and businessman Dom Talijancich is the man behind Advanced Conservation Solutions, which is experimenting with AI-powered detection of what enters its fishing net. Real time.
More efficient engines are already powering newly commissioned fishing vessels, drastically reducing their carbon footprint.
Fish is already one of the lowest carbon proteins in the world. The technology shows where ships are located. Our fishermen return to the same fishing grounds every year, so our annual trawl footprint is just 2 percent of our waters.
It is far from crazy to say that five to ten years from now we will be fishing very differently in New Zealand.
The ITP can be a stepping stone. We can invest seriously, work with the government and do our best, or fail to shift with the changing tides.
At the moment we are making great strides towards a visionary future with a seafood industry the envy of the world and of which New Zealanders are proud.
If you believe in that future, I encourage you to submit your submissions to the Fisheries ITP by June 11 to celebrate the progress we’ve made and help us push even further.
– dr Jeremy Helson is a marine biologist, lawyer and solicitor who has worked in fisheries management at the Department of Primary Industries. He was formerly CEO of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand and is currently CEO of Seafood New Zealand, the industry governing body