Navigating Change, New Technology And Disruption In The Global Fishing Industry

Navigating Change, New Technology And Disruption In The Global Fishing Industry

By Johnny Wood Among the world’s toughest business industries, fishing ranks near the top – a fact brought home to a global audience by the TV show, “Deadliest Catch”. Whether recreational, charter or commercial, fishing requires some serious heavy lifting. And the physical challenges of life aboard a trawler are only one side of the story; declining fish prices, rising fuel and maintenance costs for trawlers and a slew of environmental regulations and policy decisions have left fishers navigating increasingly choppy waters. The challenges of commercial fishing can be made even more demanding by the structure of the industry. While large commercial concerns do exist, majority of the industry is made up of small, family-owned businesses, which means few safety nets, if any, exist to guard against risks. Coupled with the day-to-day issues fishers face when taking a boat to sea, global events like the 2008 financial crisis have a dramatic impact on market demand and value for fish and seafood. What’s more, since fish is seldom considered a basic food in western markets, it can easily slip from people’s grocery lists during financial downturns. With tightening environmental regulations, the fishing industry is now adapting its traditional ways of working – and its equipment – to operate efficiently within this new landscape. New amendments to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) MARPOL Convention, which come into effect in 2021, set strict requirements for fishers who upgrade, or replace, their existing trawler. However, vessel owners will also need to invest in new trawlers and technologies in order to find more sustainable fishing methods. Protecting our seas The IMO regulations aim to reduce harmful exhaust gas emissions from trawlers, ships and freighters powered by internal combustion engines. Four Emission Controlled Areas (ECAs) have been established by the IMO, regulating coastal North America, and parts of the Caribbean, North and Baltic seas. Once the new regulations take effect, marine vessels operating in the North and Baltic Seas will be subject to a 2 gram per kWh cap on nitrogen oxide emissions, which result from gas combustion taking place on board. In addition, beginning on January 1, a new global sulfur cap of 0.5 percent will be enforced on all shipping, with an additional reduction to a 0.1 percent cap in the IMO’s ECAs. Although such moves target the wider shipping industry, they have serious repercussions for independent fishers. Investing wisely in the right equipment Complying with new regulatory changes isn’t always easy. Fishing boats are expensive to load with supplies and fuel, as well as to maintain and operate, leaving fishers facing some tough choices. Those in the industry have a variety of options for lowering exhaust emissions, including adopting new fishing methods and switching the boat’s power unit to run on alternative fuels or supported with an after-treatment system. Alternatively, fishers can invest in new hull designs that reduce water resistance. But adapting existing boats will require trawler owners to seriously compare the cost of maintenance against the greater expense of buying a newly equipped vessel. While repairing or upgrading existing equipment incurs lower initial costs, this course of action can prove more expensive in the long run. New vessels are more cost effective and reliable, minimizing operation and maintenance expenses. Consistently bringing a boat back to port on schedule also helps fishers to maximize catch earnings and reduce crew downtime between fishing voyages. While investing in a new engine has many benefits, fitting a boat with new fishing equipment can be a big commitment for small operators. Policy changes and new fishing techniques can transform the industry with little warning. For example, boat owners who were quick to adapt their vessels for pulse fishing – a trawling technique that uses small electric shocks to jolt fish from the sea floor and drive them upwards into floating nets – may question their investment in light of the ongoing debate about this controversial practice. This is also a major concern for those fishing within European Union waters, following the EU’s decision to ban electric pulse fishing beginning in 2021 Navigating around overfishing Many people who make a living catching, selling and buying fish are working to improve how the world manages and conserves ocean resources. However, modern fishing practices are coming under increasing pressure from overfishing. Recent legislation worldwide has put serious efforts into maintaining future fish stocks and ensuring the fishing industry complies with sustainable practices. Access to global fishing grounds grows increasingly strictly regulated by the year. To help both fishers and regulatory bodies monitor fleets and ensure they comply with the rules, new technology, such as interactive maps, have been put in place to show near real-time movements of individual vessels and fishing fleets around the world. With advanced satellite technology and machine learning, the Global Fishing Watch algorithm can identify over 70,000 fishing vessels, as well as determine the size, engine power and fishing type of each boat, where it fished and for how long. But not all fish production is monitored by the tracker. Globally, according to World Bank figures, more seafood is now farmed than fished. In some regions, open sea fishing has been replaced by capture farms, where fish, shellfish and seaweed are bred in penned-off enclosures. This type of aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is prevalent in East Asian countries, where stocks are farmed to supply local seafood markets. Structural changes like aquaculture add to the uncertainties facing today’s fishing fleets – the extent to which it will be adopted remains to be seen. But whatever obstacles the industry encounters, it is essential that governments, policymakers and fishers work towards establishing sustainable fishing practices, to safeguard future fish stocks and protect marine environments

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