New Zealand fisherman live-streams his catch, showing the promise of electronic monitoring

Cameras are increasingly recording activity aboard fishing vessels to help fishermen comply with enforcement regulations, but New Zealander Karl Warr might be the first to live-stream every second on his vessel – opening his operations up to the scrutiny of the whole world.

On the website of his company Better Fishing, anyone can spectate as his vessel bobs at dock, steams out to fishing grounds, or even as he hauls in the catch. The always-on video provides the kind of radical transparency that is being increasingly called for by consumers who don’t fully trust the fishing industry.

"It signals a step change in the interest of the industry to engage in more transparency efforts. I think it's really a reflection of Karl's foresight and courage to put himself out there, that not only is it a good thing for fishermen to be more transparent to secure social license, but it's ultimately beneficial," Bubba Cook, who works for the World Wildlife Fund in New Zealand, told SeafoodSource. "The folks in New Zealand are beating his door down saying we want to buy from him."

Warr’s family-owned operation catches roughly 10 metric tons of flatfish every year by bottom-trawling and is based in Napier, New Zealand, selling to local restaurants and retail outlets. Warr endorses transparent fishing as a boon for both the environment and his operation's finances. Consumers can judge for themselves his commitment to ethical practices and sustainability.

“This technology allows the public to see everything I do on my vessel," Warr said in a statement. "My goal is to engage with community and customers as closely as possible by telling the story behind the production of their seafood.”

The video camera system aboard Warr's boat was built and installed by SnapIT, an electronic monitoring company. The data and video are captured in high definition, then compressed for transmission over the local cellular network.

"This technology also demonstrates that there is a technical capacity to livestream data, and if you can livestream it, you can capture it, and if you can capture it, you can analyze it," Cook said. "This is just the beginning, and it's relatively inexpensive.”

SnapIT started building cameras a decade ago, with the current versions able to withstand harsh ocean conditions and go 3,000 meters deep. The company is exploring installing cameras on fishing nets to livestream that video, working on the technology to connect underwater cameras to above-water transmission systems.

Off-the-shelf equipment isn’t tough enough for harsh ocean conditions, according to SnapIT CEO Chris Rodley. So, the company builds everything itself – from cameras to computer boards to transmission equipment. 

"Cameras sometimes that are installed on boats are cameras that are installed at the supermarket for security. The challenge is keeping that camera going in the environment on fishing boats," Rodley told SeafoodSource. By building their own equipment, "we then get control over what happens on the device.”

SnapIT’s transmission unit can run artificial intelligence software at sea, and the company is working on three different AI algorithms that analyze video footage. The algorithms can classify vessel activity, such as a hatch opening or a vessel leaving port, distinguish between objects such as different types of fish, and detect anomalous objects, such as a dolphin, that might wind up in the net. 

Vessel activity classification is among the most promising advances in electronic monitoring, Rodley said. By sorting the relevant video from the irrelevant, it has the potential to whittle down the time fishery monitors spend watching video looking for infractions – allowing them to hone in on footage of catch being hauled in, for example, rather than hours of boring footage of vessels steaming out to fishing grounds.

SnapIT will be releasing its visual classification software as early as later this month or in January, with object- and anomaly-detection rolling out shortly after, Rodley said. Users will be able to train the AI themselves, depending on the needs of their individual fisheries. 

In addition to its camera system, SnapIT has a low-cost, solar-powered vessel monitoring system (VMS) that transfers vessel location to regulators over the wireless network by pairing with a cell phone. Most of New Zealand’s fishing fleet is currently running the product, and hundreds of vessels around the world use it, Rodley said.

While SnapIT’s technology meets regulatory needs, Rodley envisions the tech as more than a compliance tool. Better analysis of location data could help fishermen avoid bycatch hotspots or identify promising fishing grounds. Tech could also enable fishermen to connect directly with customers, increasing the value of their product.

"What if the auction floor was the actual boat? He might not need to take as much fish because he's generating considerably more revenue,” Rodley said. "There is a ton of value in allowing the fisher to take control of his business and allowing him to market directly to the consumer."  


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