While a very popular practice in the fishing industry, bottom trawling has long been criticized for its huge negative impact on marine ecosystems. A new device from researchers in France, however, could finally help make the method more eco-friendly.
What is bottom trawling and why is it bad for marine life?
Bottom trawling is a widely used fishing practice that involves dragging large, heavy nets along the seafloor to capture fish. While it is effective at catching large amounts of fish in one go, it does so in an indiscriminate way, fishing many non-target marine species which most often end up dying.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the fishing industry is responsible for about 20 million tonnes of fish in bycatch, which are discarded at sea or after being brought back to the quayside.
How AI could help reduce by-catch
In an effort to come up with a way to reduce unnecessary deaths from bottom trawling, the University of South Brittany (UBS) partnered with the Morbihan fisheries committee and tech company Marport to develop the Game of Trawls project.
As part of the project, the team explored how integrating AI into fishing gear could help reduce by-catch. As such, the team equipped the gear with a network of sensors and cameras and used computer vision to detect and identify in real-time the species that enter the fishing nets. This would enable fishermen to target specific species based on their size and abundance, before bringing the fishing gear back on board.
“I am not interested in having the fish on the bridge and sorting it once it is dead, I prefer to sort it on the bottom,” said Eric Guygniec, a project partner. According to Guygniec, by using such a device, “we know at all times what goes into the net, the size of the fish and the species, and if the species does not interest us we can open a trap.”