Does sustainability depend on technology?

Does sustainability depend on technology? Electronic technology is an indispensable tool in dealing with the issue of by-catch, according to Kongsberg Maritime’s VP Fishery Olav Vittersø

You don’t tend to hear the ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ phrase quite so often these days. Apart from this expression being a bland platitude, it’s more significant that the phrase is in danger of becoming a literal falsehood.

It’s a real concern that we live in an age when it is no longer possible to take for granted that there will always be fish in the sea, according to Kongsberg Maritime’s VP Fishery Olav Vittersø.

Circumstances have coincided so that rising sea temperatures are intensifying ocean acidification and drawing non-native species into different waters in search of feed. The widespread destruction of coral reefs which form a habitat for almost a quarter of the world’s marine organisms has also had a demonstrably significant effect.

It is often assumed that implementing an active environmental consciousness and maintaining a financially viable fishing business are mutually exclusive notions; but the truth of the matter is more nuanced.

“Efficiency and profitability are often looked upon as negative concepts in relation to sustainability, but this is not necessarily the case if technology is used in the right way,” Olav Vittersø said. “And this is a consideration which needs to begin at a governmental level. An absolute cornerstone of the sustainable fishing ethos, naturally, is the responsibility of setting and maintaining appropriate quotas. Technology is the government’s ally in this regard, as the Big Data derived from detailed monitoring, surveillance and management of fish stocks enables precise and informed quotas to be set. By the same token, deploying the relevant technology at the other end of the process means that commercial fishermen can adhere to set quotas and optimise operational efficiencies to keep their profit margins healthy.”

“We’re understandably keen to stress the importance of technology to this entire process,” he explained. “As it ultimately benefits us all. The driving principle behind the Simrad products we supply for worldwide fishing fleets, developed by Kongsberg in conjunction with the Institute of Marine Research, is Technology for Sustainable Fisheries – and it’s a credo we live by every day.”

The situation is appreciably more complex than merely guaranteeing that catch allocations are computed conservatively, and he commented that there are other factors that need to be taken into account, including catching the right size of fish.

“This not only results in fishermen getting the premium price for their catch, but also ensures that small, non-reproductive fish are not being caught, which would cut off the lifeline to the future,” he said.

“Again, appropriate technology is essential. Simrad echo sounders with split-beam functionality allow skippers to determine the size of fish before they are caught. A typical screen display will reveal biomass information about the density of the fish concentration beneath a fishing vessel, plus a bar graph illustrating the distribution of fish sizes and a fish plot which detects fish close to the seabed, allowing differentiation between any ghost echoes which might appear on the main picture and actual fish which would be visible on the plot.”

Olav Vittersø commented that technology is also an indispensable tool in getting to grips with the complexities of by-catches.

“A skipper needs to be certain that the right species of fish is entering the trawl, while having the ability to guide unwanted species back out. Our multi-beam trawl sonars, catch monitoring systems – which include live video – and sensors were developed with this in mind, to dramatically reduce impacts on ocean fauna, enabling the right fish to be located and caught at the right time for better quality, and filtering out by-catch well before it reaches the surface.”

He added that as well as contributing to sustainable fisheries by providing opportunities to make early decisions during the catching process, this also has a significant effect on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by minimising the time fishing vessels need to spend at sea and distances they need to cover.

“It really boils down to making certain that the technology can support and facilitate incentives such as the Marine Stewardship Council’s three main principles for sustainability,” Olav Vittersø said.

“This is about ensuring an indefinite abundance of fish stocks, minimising environmental impacts and pursuing effective, lawful fisheries management. From our point of view, it’s encouraging to confirm that all of this is already possible with the use of technology. This isn’t just just the Simrad-branded fishfinding equipment, but also the sustainability-conscious systems and components Kongsberg develops and delivers to improve control and efficiency on fishing vessels. This could be anything from the actual design of a new vessel to propulsion control, deck machinery, engines, thrusters, navigation and automation systems.”

“All of our efforts are focused upon securing the viability of our collective future and it’s imperative that we don’t stop here,” Olav Vittersø said.

“The sentiment needs to apply to everyone else involved in the maritime industry, and we’re only too happy to lead by example. Our goal is to always improve, in performance as well as continuing to push with technological innovations such as a new autonomous broadband echo sounder that can remain on the seabed for months on end to monitor marine life. The fishing industry has embraced Simrad technology for over 70 years. We plan to keep innovating and contributing, but for us all to survive for at the very least, the next 70 years, a culture shift towards ecologically sensitive operations with a joined-up, technology-led approach is the only way to achieve the sustainability that the fishing industry, and the world needs.”

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