Can technology help save the world’s oceans?

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To tie in with World Oceans Day earlier this month, IBM hosted a panel discussion on the potential to use IT to support sustainable fishing

Cliff Saran

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Published: 11 Jun 2021 10:19

In a recent blog post, Greenpeace’s lead ocean campaigner, Luc McCallum, discussed the need to have all of the world’s oceans managed sustainably and in the public interest. He said that at least 30% should be fully protected from all threats by 2030.

“Protecting at least 30% is what scientists tell us is needed to restore fish populations and keep our oceans healthy,” McCallum noted in the blog post.

IBM recently brought together a group of experts to look at how technology can support sustainability initiatives. The panel discussed the role of sustainable value chains and how to engineer sustainability and the collection of data through the fishing supply chain.

Luq Niazi, general manager of the global distribution sector and consumer industries at IBM, said: “World Oceans Day is an important moment in time to stop and reflect on all that the ocean provides to us and how we can use technology to give back. I truly believe we are at that crucial point where individuals, nations, companies and organisations are starting to engineer sustainability through the aquaculture value chain.”

Discussing the global dilemma, panel member Donna Lanzetta, CEO and founder of Maana Fish Farms, said: “We need to think about the 10 billion people on earth that are planned to be here, look to protein production and feeding the world and implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

“World Oceans Day is an important moment in time to stop and reflect on all that the ocean provides to us and how we can use technology to give back”
Luq Niazi, IBM

Lanzetta pointed out that hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on the ocean, ocean production and ancillary businesses for their livelihood. “To stop eating seafood is not the solution,” she said.

Rather, Lanzetta believes businesses and individuals need to act more responsibly. “It’s a social licence that’s needed for operators out there, and it needs to be done transparently in an engaged way with society,” she said.

Lanzetta called for a commitment to transparency so that policy-makers can base decisions on scientific facts. “What we want to do is produce seafood, take pressure off of our wild stocks and be most efficient.”

Technology to provide transparency in fishing

Looking at some of the technologies being used to monitor oceans and fish stock, fellow panellist John Grant, a professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, described how the past five years had seen greater use of ocean technology.

For instance, wireless sensors for measuring temperature, oxygen and phytoplankton, among other variables in the ocean, provide what Grant described as a “dense information and sensor network” which is available to the farmers in real time via their smartphones.

“These sensor networks have really made a difference. They also make a difference to fish welfare, which is an important concern. The sensors provide alerts to help fish farmers make decisions about feeding, health treatments and harvesting stock,” he said.

“We’ve been working recently with surgically implanted, heart rate monitors for fish, so we’re able to not just detect the environment, but to really learn a lot about how the fish are behaving with respect to various conditions in the ocean. Our fish farming partners have fully embraced this technology and now it’s spreading throughout the world.”

The data generated is being analysed with IBM Analytics. For Grant, the question is how best to use all this sensor data to forecast the conditions in the ocean to take pre-emptive or preventive management actions in fish farming.

Another use of sensors is on the cages that house farmed fish. According to Grant, these have the potential to detect movement, fish stress and behaviour under storms, which can be used to prevent fish from escaping.

Seafood traceability

The Norwegian Seafood Association, in conjunction with Atea, runs a sensor network that collects fishing data. During the panel discussion, Steinar Sønsteby, CEO of Atea, described the role the Norwegian Seafood Network has played in traceability.

“By documenting and sharing data about how fish have been raised, what they have eaten, what kind of water quality they live in and how they get to the dinner table, consumers will have more insight and confidence in the quality of food they eat”
Bjørn Olvik, Nova Sea

The network aims to offer a permanent, immutable and digitised chain of transactions based on blockchain. Feed manufacturers, fish farmers, distributors and retailers all have access to product data in near real time. Each member of the chain can also download and use an app to scan each salmon lot at each point of receipt. 

One of the problems with having a system that works across the fishing industry is that legacy IT systems do not comply with modern standards. For Sønsteby, the idea of a network makes more sense, particularly with the smaller fish farmers his company works with.

“It‘s important to join a network, join someone bigger. You do not pay upfront for an IT project, you pay per metric ton of fish trays, so if you’re small, you pay less; if you’re big, you pay more,” he said.

Northern Norway’s largest salmon producer, Nova Sea, recently joined the network. Bjørn Olvik, sales director at Nova Sea, said: “By documenting and sharing data about how the fish have been raised, what they have eaten, what kind of water quality they live in and how the fish make it to the dinner table, consumers will have more insight and confidence in the quality of food they eat.”

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