It is time to add a third line to the famous adage, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” with an addendum, “Encourage innovation and new technologies for fisheries and we can feed the world sustainably!” Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) opened the Marine Technology Society and the House Oceans Caucus Congressional briefing this week by noting his attempts over 28 years in Congress “trying to develop as much interest in the ocean as there is in space.” Unfortunately, he has noticed an “anti-science attitude [in Congress], particularly when it comes to the ocean.”
Citing the vast economic importance of protecting the ocean, Rep. Farr, who has decided not to rerun for Congress, closed his remarks by telling the ocean experts in the audience to “roll up your sleeves and get politically active.” Heeding Rep. Farr’s advice, experts presented a cornucopia of exciting new technologies to the audience on the Capitol Hill at a Congressional briefing titled, “Technology for Fisheries Research and Applications.”
The panelists described the current state of fishing technologies, as well as the possibilities for improving the future of fisheries research, management, and industry through new technologies. One mechanism for improving stock assessments, and thus generating better forward fisheries management plans, is to use a modernized echosounder attached to an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to determine fish numbers. Charles Thompson (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Mississippi Laboratories) described technological improvements to habitat mapping along with CamTrawl, a modern technology that allows for visual monitoring of fish in a trawl, a deep-sea fishing net. In the future, this technology could be modified so that particular fish species are identified during trawling and selected for catching, while the remaining fish pass harmlessly through the net. This could dramatically reduce bycatch, which is a problem for even small-scale fisheries.
Josh Wells, Cofounder and CEO of Planck Aerosystems, discussed his company’s aims toward precision fishing, which would balance fisheries sustainability with economic stability. Mr. Wells believes fishers should spend “less time searching, more time fishing,” and Planck’s drone aircraft can provide the information to point fishers in the right directions. The aircraft can take off and land from moving vessels and can provide sea surface imagery and aerial fish detection at a low cost to fishers. Jake Sobin (Manager Sciences and Americas, Kongsberg Underwater Technology, Inc.) also highlighted how remote sensing could be complemented with ecosounding systems attached to sailing drones to identify objects, like fish, in the water column.
Expressing the viewpoint of a lifelong fisherman, Jim Ruhle (Mid-Atlantic Fishermen) stressed the paramount importance of finding fish, and he knows that fishers can help with data generation and technologies required to improve fishing. Cooperation between fishers and scientists has led to numerous successes; Mr. Ruhle’s fishing vessel has been measuring sea bottom temperatures as part of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Study Fleet, which help increase precision in oceanographic and weather forecasting, as well as ecosystem modeling. He feels like a partner in the science and also benefits from the results provided by these technological advancements.
Through the numerous new technologies available, we can learn much more about how fisheries stocks change, where certain species prefer to live, and how to better manage fisheries. AUVs and high-precision equipment are helping set the scene for the future, but new technologies will continue to emerge to help fishers supply the growing world population with fishes, sustainably sourced in a way that maintains our overall ocean health.