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From weather predicting apps to using artificial intelligence to monitor the fish they catch, small-scale fishermen and coastal communities are increasingly turning to digital tools to help them be more sustainable and tackle climate change. Overfishing and illegal fishing by commercial vessels inflict significant damage on fisheries and the environment, and take food and jobs from millions of people in coastal communities who rely on fishing, environmental groups say.
In addition, climate change affects on small-scale fishermen—who account for about 90% of the world’s capture fishermen and fish workers—include fish moving to new areas in search of cooler waters or if their habitat is destroyed, rising sea levels, and an increase in the number of storms. Launched in January by nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Small-Scale Fisheries Resource and Collaboration Hub (SSF Hub) is a multilingual website that aims to bring together fishermen, their communities and advocacy groups to connect, share ideas and find solutions to the problems they face. “Small-scale fishers are already facing many challenges—from multiple marine uses, declining fish stocks, threats from over-fishing—and climate change is just going to exacerbate those challenges,” said Alexis Rife, director of small-scale fisheries initiatives at EDF. “That means that their livelihoods are at risk. It means that their food security is at risk … It’s a pretty dire situation,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The website has a resource library where fishermen can search for topics of interest, free online courses, a community forum, discussion groups, an events page and a blog section. Although it requires a smart phone or computer and internet connection to access—which is often patchy in coastal areas—Rife said it had low data requirements and they are looking at ways to enable users to view its information offline. The website’s resources can be easily shared via WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter—platforms already widely used by many small-scale fishers to help get the best prices.
EDF also has a pilot project in Indonesia’s Lampung province on Sumatra island that uses an app to record and monitor catch in blue swimming crab fisheries to enable them to be more sustainable. A separate pilot in Indonesia uses cameras with artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms to monitor how many vessels are going out to sea and estimate their catch. “Fishing is the backbone of coastal and inland fisheries communities around the globe, providing food and nutrition, supporting fishing-related jobs … (and) helping alleviate poverty,” said Simon Cripps, executive director for marine conservation at green group the Wildlife Conservation Society. Find a balanceSince 2007, Taiwan has mandated that all small-scale fishermen use global positioning system (GPS) devices—that give a vessel’s location every three minutes—with the data collected and analyzed along with reports on fish catches, gear used, and auctions. The data and monitoring gives insight into assessing fishery conditions, fisheries livelihoods and food security, and helps shape government policy.
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