There are Not Plenty of Fish in the Sea… but A.I. can help

Last year I went scuba diving in the Dominican Republic. It was fun and mind-blowing and I almost crapped myself every time a fish bigger than my thumb came within a 20-meter radius. I got to see an ecosystem that is vastly underexplored and grossly underappreciated by most of society. It was sick.

Me being scared of a sea urchin
Expectation vs. Reality

The Crisis

The Earth’s oceans are one of the largest food sources in the world. Fish are the primary source of protein for 2.2 billion people, however, more and more fishers are returning to shore with empty nets. Some scientists say that over the last 50 years fish populations have decreased by 90%. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there will be no seafood left to catch by 2048. Why? Overfishing.

A single catch from one boat in Chile (2015)
  1. Oceans act as a carbon sink for our pollutants. The oceans absorb 28% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, acting as an important regulator for climate change. Phytoplankton absorb CO2 and produce oxygen.
  2. As previously mentioned, the ocean is a major massive source of food. I’m not just talking about sushi bars and fish markets, I’m talking about the millions of people living in extreme poverty who survive off this food source. Millions of people rely on fish as an affordable food source and ten percent of the world’s population depends on fisheries for their livelihoods. Long story short, we need marine ecosystems to survive.

The Industry

The most common method used for commercial fishing is something called trawling. Trawling is a process by which a massive net the size of four football fields is dragged behind the boat, catching everything in its way. And I mean everything. For each catch, 40–96% of fish are unintentionally caught and thrown overboard dead or dying. This 40–96% waste is called bycatch, and it is putting a lot of marine species at risk, including the blue shark.

A trawling net being its inefficient, lame self
A harp seal caught in a trawling net. Harp seals were recently declared endangered… shocker.
A fisher measuring each fish… one at a time…

A Solution

Luckily, the task of these supervisors is fairly simple: Count fish, record data. Good news! AI can handle that.

My YOLO image classifier that identifies fish species. It’s not 100% accurate (errors are seen in the video), but it will learn and improve over time!

The Point Is…

Despite what you may have heard, there are not plenty of fish in the sea. If the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is correct, we have 19 years left of seafood. With over 2.2 billion people currently relying on fish for protein and many populations relying on the resource for survival, 2048 won’t look good for us. This application of artificial intelligence on small fishing boats is one simple and cost-effective measure to help slow the rate of overfishing. Allowing governments to track and minimize illegal fishing activity is not going to solve this crisis, but it’s a good place to start. Ecosystems, food security, and economies all depend on an end to this overfishing before 2048.

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Hey, I’m Cassia! I’m a 19 y/o starting a climate action company. In high school, I worked on climate tech projects like nanotech solar panels and lab-grown meat