AI now tracks fishing activity, but it's making fishermen unhappy

Spanish company Satlink expects big growth in the use of artificial intelligence to observe fishing activity, despite opposition from some fishermen.
Written by Anna Solana, Contributor

There are plenty of fish in the sea. But collecting accurate data on catching them remains a challenge.

Traditionally, information on fishing activity has come from a combination of sources: fishermen's paper logbooks, data collected by independent observers on landings and discards, and from shoreside dealers.

Another approach is to use an electronic monitoring system, which can deliver detailed reports on fishing location, catches and discards, and can also be used to monitor fishermen onboard, as well as for compliance with fishing regulations, according to Javier De la Cal at Satlink.

This Spanish company has developed an electronic monitoring system called SeaTube, which consists of a minimum of four CCTV cameras that can record video at 1,280 x 720 resolution at 24fps, coupled with a GPS receiver to geolocalize the information.

The data can be analyzed using the Satlink View Manager by either the ship owner or an official observer program.

"For example, [from the data] we can say with 90 percent accuracy whether a vessel is fishing or drifting."

Once the artificial-intelligence software behind the system has been trained, SeaTube can become a vessel's eyes, according to Satlink.

"People usually think that fishing is just catching fish but the technology behind it is significant," De la Cal says. "It can see pollution issues raised by approaching boats, which enables a rational management of the fishery."

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Satlink, created in 1992 and based in Madrid, expects the use of artificial intelligence to analyze fishery video could be employed in more than 50,000, 12 meter-plus vessels throughout the world by 2028, representing a potential market of €750m ($857m).

According to Satlink, which is running projects in the Solomon Islands, Palau, and Micronesia, among other locations, 38 percent of that market will comes from Asian fleets, 19 percent from EU ones, 10 percent from the US, 10 percent from Latin America, five percent from Oceania, and 18 percent from organizations regulating fishing activity across the world.

However, there is resistance to the introduction of electronic systems. Some fishermen are still reluctant to be recorded.

"We already have vessel AIS and GPS onboard. We don't need cameras," says Paco, a Catalan fisherman with nearly 30 years' experience.

In August, the region of Galicia in northwestern Spain rejected plans to implement monitoring systems on fishing vessels, arguing that they infringe on privacy and endanger continuity in the sector.

Neither do they make for more efficient controls on fishing activity, according to la Xunta, the region's government, in a report sent to the European Commission. In contrast, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) defends the use of electronic monitoring because of cost reductions and its usefulness to human observers.

Satlink's International business development' manager De la Cal acknowledges that "initially, companies are reluctant to use the technology, but when it's explained, they get why they need it".

Catalan fisherman Paco disagrees: "We have different technologies and studies to know, for example, how to save fuel and how to be more sustainable. Many processes have been digitized but fishermen still fish their way."

However, they both agree that conservation of the fish stocks is key for a sustainable future.


SeaTube can deliver detailed reports on fishing location, catches and discards, and can also be used to monitor fishermen onboard.

Image: Satlink

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