The 2021 Netflix documentary Seaspiracy has pushed sustainable fishing practices to the forefront of people’s minds, and global supply chains are being scrutinised with a new fervour. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than a third of fish populations are overfished, while the World Wildlife Fund says the number of overfished stocks has tripled in the past 50 years.
So what are people doing about the problem? We took a quick dive into some of the technologies bringing sustainability to fishing supply chains from ocean to plate.
Blockchain technology is the golden child of traceability, and is already used across a wide scope of industries to bring transparency to business practices. In the instance of fishing, using blockchain means customers can learn and monitor exactly where the fish they eat came from, and whether certain areas are being overfished.
Instances of malpractice will also be easier to spot, and fishing vessels engaging in activities such as bottom trawling or dredging will be rapidly identified, allowing certification schemes to confirm sustainability. As the data collected in this way is decentralised and updated in real-time, it can prove a valuable tool in combating fraud in the industry.
The efficacy of using blockchain in the seafood industry has already been demonstrated, most recently by Sydney-based transparency tech company OpenSC. The firm assisted an expedition earlier this year that was fishing for the Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean, helping to digitally tag each fish caught so consumers can trace their fish from sea to supermarket.
Nets that save fish
A huge problem faced in the fishing industry is that of by-catch. That is, the accidental capture of marine life that is not intended for consumption – such as dolphins or turtles. With every haul, a vast amount is discarded back into the ocean even if the animals caught are dead or dying. According to the WWF, around 40% of global catches are made up of bycatch, and it is thought to be the leading cause of death for cetaceans (whales and dolphins).
As well as monitoring stocks in the area being fished, modifying fishing gear is another way of targeting this issue. One company doing this is SafetyNet, a British company that has created products designed to minimise by-catch.
One of their products is a net with lighted rings that guide smaller fish to escape the catch, while another is a light-emitting device attached to nets that can repel or attract certain species. This latter technology was trialled in Peru last year, considered as a means of improving sustainability in artisanal fishing in the region.
Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM)
Collecting data on fish populations has been identified by the Marine Conservation Society as ‘one of the most effective ways’ to improve fisheries management, and REM is a means to this end. With cameras and sensors installed on boats, fishers can gain a better understanding of the stocks in certain areas – identifying what’s being caught, when boats are fishing and how fish populations are being impacted.
With this data being made accessible by certification schemes and fishing authorities, trends can be examined and strategies implemented as a result. In addition, transparency across the supply chain can also be ensured.
While these kinds of strategies are not yet seeing wide-spread rollout in the industry, they still provide evidence that sustainability can be achieved. The benefits of these technologies can be seen in large and small scale operations alike, and would help to bring accountability and transparency to the sector when integrated with usual practice – something that can’t come soon enough for an industry under increased pressure for sustainability.