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Scientists Look to Artificial Intelligence to Bring USD7 Billion Tuna Fishery Back into Balance

  (UNITED STATES, 11/21/2016)

The Nature Conservancy is launching a technology challenge to transform one of the world’s largest tuna fisheries and ensure a sustainable seafood supply for generations.

In the Pacific, where more than half the world’s tuna supply is sourced, 98 percent of longline tuna boats are operating blind. An estimated USD500 million to USD1.5 billion is lost every year from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region. Knowing what, where and how much is being caught is key to managing a sustainable fishery.

The Western and Central Pacific Ocean provides nearly 60% of the world’s tuna catch for a USD7 billion annual global market.

Electronic monitoring systems consisting of cameras, sensors and GPS units, on boats are a scalable, cost-effective solution, but it takes a person six hours to review a single, ten-hour fishing day. There are thousands of boats in the fishery, which go out for weeks or months at a time so when they return, they would have hundreds of hours of footage to review. The challenge calls for data scientists to apply artificial intelligence to the video review process. Artificial Intelligence coupled with electronic monitoring on fishing boats could be the answer to restoring the depleting tuna supply, protecting vulnerable species like sharks and turtles, and securing the economies of pacific island nations. 

Many boats fishing for sushi-grade tuna in this rich fishing ground use the longline fishing technique. However, 98% of these boats operate with no oversight.

“I’m not trying to invent the future. This technology exists but it isn’t typically applied to conservation problems. This will be the first application of artificial intelligence onboard a fishing boat,” said Matt Merrifield, Chief Technology Officer at The Nature Conservancy in California. “Cameras help us see what’s happening out in the open ocean, and artificial intelligence can slash review time by as much as 40% so we can manage and act on the data coming into port.”

The Conservancy is rolling out electronic monitoring technology in the tuna fishery.

Now data technologists can log onto Kaggle to enter for their chance to solve a global environmental problem. Teams will have access to hundreds of hours of footage of fishing practices and five months to develop the solution. The top 5 winning teams will receive USD150,000; prize money and technical support provided by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Vulcan Inc. The winning algorithm will be applied to data from 24 fishing boats across the Pacific, in partnership with the governments of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Japan and Marshall Islands.    

“The people of Palau are deeply connected to, and dependent on, our marine resources, and my job is to ensure our future generations have the same resources we had,” said Umiich Sengebau, Palau’s Minister for Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism. “This technology solution will help us see what’s happening across our waters and give us the power to improve the management of our fisheries and put a stop to illegal and unsustainable fishing practices.”

A high-tech reboot has the power to stop unsustainable longline fishing—and preserve the Pacific Ocean for future generations.

The challenge is part of a larger, multi-year campaign called “This is Our Future,” that calls on the technology community and cultural game-changers to disrupt the tired paradigm that human progress is at odds with nature’s needs and step up to the challenge of creating a world where nature and people thrive. The Conservancy, long known for its strategy of buying land, is finding new ideas and ways of solving problems, such as technology interventions and building unconventional markets. This campaign is an effort to bring greater awareness and inspire new innovative ways to develop solutions that work for both nature and people.

The PNA nations are working toward better management and monitoring solutions in the longline tuna fishery.

“People have been disrupting nature for decades and it is now time for disruption to bring things back into balance. What if people were the solution and not the problem," said Mike Sweeney, The Nature Conservancy’s managing director of global fisheries and executive director of California. “Together, we can transform the world’s largest tuna fishery and influence change all around the world,” 

Governments can’t fix what they can’t see and getting a human observer on every tuna boat isn’t possible. Investing in a monitoring  solution that puts GPS cameras on boats with a machine-learning software to track and review the daily catch can cause a positive ripple effect in fisheries around the world.

New research has already begun. The Conservancy is working with Palau and a leading fishing and seafood company, testing new fishing practices to catch tuna without killing vulnerable marine species like sharks and turtles. Demonstrating sustainable fishing practices are economically viable in one of the world’s largest fisheries can cause a positive ripple effect in fisheries around the world.

The new tools will offer actionable data.

Matt Idema from Facebook, Engineer Tray Chou and Anthony Goldbloom from Kaggle signed on to be ambassadors for “This is Our Future.” Yosi Sergant and Joseph Alessio are bringing their talents to engage participants and bring the issue to life in a hands on way. MPC, a global leader in VFX, developed a virtual reality experience titled after the campaign that features a larger-than-life gallery experience immersing the viewer in the problems facing the fishery and how technology can catalyze change. Unlike many other virtual reality films, this isn’t live action, but rather built using game design software Unreal Engine to trigger action within the experience and play with people’s perception of space, scale and volume. Kieran Culkin narrates.

“Conservation isn’t just about preserving beautiful places or protecting endangered species,” explains Matt Idema, VP of Monetization at Facebook. “It’s about investing in our planet so the things we take for granted today—like Tuna—are still here five or ten years from now.”

The donations will support: 1-GPS-equipped cameras on 24 boats across 4 Pacific Island nations controlling key fishing grounds, 2- A machine-learning software to slash review time,  3- A defined path to deploying new software on boats, 4-Catalyze a 5-year plan to achieve 100% accountability in this fishery.

“This is Our Future” campaign supporters and collaborators include Advanced Micro Devices; Archipelago Marine Research; Australian Fisheries Management Authority; Enso; MPC; Oculus; The Pacific Community, Republic of Palau Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism; Q Department; SatLink, Savage Bureau; Taskforce and Vulcan Inc./Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

About The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, The Nature Conservancy creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together.

The Nature Conservancy is a charitable environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Its mission is to "conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends".

The Nature Conservancy is tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, The Nature Conservancy uses a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners.

Source: The Nature Conservancy

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