artificial intelligence fisheries management

Dutch researchers and fishermen have shown that artificial intelligence makes a difference in fisheries management. Image ©Wageningen University and Research

EU-Funded AI Tool Enhances Sustainability in Dutch Fisheries

In a groundbreaking initiative supported by EU funding, Dutch researchers from Wageningen University and Research (WUR), in collaboration with the Dutch fishing industry, have harnessed the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to tackle the perennial problem of unwanted catches in fisheries.

The project, known as Fully Documented Fisheries (FDF), introduces an AI-based tool that promises to revolutionize the way fisheries manage and document their catches, ushering in more sustainable and transparent practices.

Addressing the Challenge of Unwanted Catches

For years, the issue of unwanted catches has loomed large in the fishing industry, contributing to inefficiency, resource wastage, and financial burdens. Under EU regulations, fishers are obliged to register all catches and bring them ashore, a process that consumes valuable time, space, and financial resources.

Enter artificial intelligence. The FDF project leverages AI to automatically recognize the size and species of each fish, simplifying onboard handling, and catch documentation. Beyond streamlining the process, the tool also yields valuable data for fisheries management.


Toward a More Sustainable Future

The FDF project extends beyond traditional fisheries management systems. It enables compliance with landing and registration obligations while simultaneously enhancing transparency in the sector and promoting sustainability. The project’s primary objective is to deliver high-quality data for fisheries research, thereby fostering a sustainable and healthy fishing industry.

The heart of the project is a potent algorithm capable of identifying fish species and sizes, making it possible to differentiate between catches suitable for human consumption (above minimum size) and unwanted catches (below minimum size). This task is challenging for the crew, and the FDF tool simplifies their responsibilities, contributing to more selective fishing practices.

Albert Visser, a trawler skipper, notes one of the advantages, saying, “One of the advantages of the camera system, for example, is that you don’t need to sort undersized fish manually.”


A Wealth of Advantages

The FDF project promises a multitude of benefits. It streamlines catch processing on board, eases the crew’s workload, and reduces administrative overhead. Furthermore, it offers real-time monitoring of total catches, categorized by size, species, and weight, producing detailed data useful for scientific research, stock estimation, policy-making, and more. Commercial applications, such as enhancing fisheries selectivity, are also on the horizon.

Regardless of the specific use, FDF significantly amplifies transparency in the sector, benefiting not only the industry itself but also consumers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The project represents a marriage of advanced technology and data collection aimed at enhancing sustainability in commercial fisheries. Edwin van Helmond, a fisheries biologist at Wageningen University and Research, underscores the multi-faceted gains, saying, “We have improved data, stock assessment, research, policy, and, ultimately, a better fisheries sector. It’s truly a win-win situation.”


The Journey So Far

FDF has operated as a pilot project for over three years, with numerous fishers opting to participate in the trials. While participation was voluntary, the fishers were compensated for the additional work involved. The system was installed on participating vessels, where video cameras recorded fish movements along conveyor belts, and an onboard AI unit decoded video images to identify and record the species and size of each fish.

This real-time insight enabled fishers to adjust their strategies, reducing the capture of undersized fish or non-target species and contributing to more responsible fishing practices.


The Path Forward

Having witnessed promising results in the initial pilot phase, the FDF project is gearing up for expansion. Initially focused on beam trawlers, a pivotal segment of Dutch fisheries, the project is now poised to extend to other fishing methods and other EU member states, including Denmark and Belgium. This marks a significant step toward making the European fishing sector more sustainable and environmentally responsible.

The AI-based FDF tool is set to redefine the future of fisheries by promoting more sustainable practices, lessening waste, and improving transparency throughout the industry.


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