Data Disrupting The Fishing Industry

Data from ships has been put to use in mapping the way the world fishes

Managing global fishing is a difficult task. Although around 1,500 different types of fish stocks are commercially fished worldwide, population estimations only exist for around a third of these stocks. Despite the monitoring of fish numbers and extensive fishing policies, the state of the world’s fish stocks is in crisis. A 2016 report by the United Nations estimated that 90 per cent of stocks were fully or overfished, with production only set to increase further by 2025.

We can be sure that the fishing industry is facing a huge supply problem. What is less clear is where exactly the world’s fishing is taking place. As with many modern day conundrums, big data is providing the answer.

Anti collision beacons, fishy signals

Data from anti collision beacons has recently been put to good use by researchers to map the movement of fishing ships across our seas. From 2012 to 2016 around 22 billion messages were sent around the world from more than 70,000 ships. Whilst these communications have the primary function of alerting other vessels to a ship’s presence, the data also enabled a detailed picture to be created of fished areas and the intensity of fishing operations there. Unsurprisingly, the world’s biggest fishing hotspots were found to be coastal areas of Europe, the South China Sea, South America and East Asia. When areas with poor satellite coverage were factored in to the study, a final estimate was reached that 73 per cent of the world’s seas are currently being fished. Previous figures for global fishing by area have been around the 95 per cent mark – so this new estimate constitutes a significant revision.

Positive consequences from unintended data

Although anti collision data was never intended to be put to use to monitor fishing activity, its innovative application in this way signals useful economic and environmental possibilities. A more thorough demarcation of popular fishing areas can provide insight into which parts of our seas can be designated as marine reserves with minimum economic impact. Such data also enables regulators and environmental organisations to look at our seas on a global scale. Rather than protecting fish stocks on a piecemeal basis, a detailed overview of the world’s fishing conditions could help all countries to protect what is, after all, a global and shared resource.

These benefits of anti collision data also demonstrate the unintended consequences of big data. Increasingly, data is becoming an asset to be exchanged. It is often harvested from consumers and technology without an explicit purpose in mind: organisations collect it, but don’t know what to do with it. If just some of that data potential could be realised then we could all benefit in limitless ways. Much like the serendipitous scientific discoveries of the past, the unintended side of data could have a lot of surprises in store.

Head down to the data marketplace

When data is pooled together it can give us truly insightful information into human behaviour, the economy, and the planet as a whole. Recognising the value of this information is key to unlocking its potential, as is creating a forum where it can be conveniently exchanged. A global data marketplace is the clear solution to this problem, where data vendors and buyers can come together to inspect each other’s wares. Just as one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure, even if data collectors have data that they feel is redundant, the chances are it will be useful to someone else. The question remains exactly how this data marketplace will be established. Could blockchain or IOT provide the answer?

Does your business collect data that it cannot find a use for? How will the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) affect the way you collect and store data? Should we change our attitudes towards the disclosure of our personal data if this could change the world for the better? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas.