The promises of technology in Fisheries and MCS / by Francisco Blaha

A reporter asked me a couple of days ago: "Some of what we've heard about the technologies to fight IUU fishing has had an element of fantasy and Starwars about it - are we now moving into a new era where real technological advance is going to change things completely?" and then "There has been a lot of gloomy thoughts about the fate of the world's fish stock - is technology now offering us a real hope for the future?"

"we are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works" D. Adams

"we are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works" D. Adams

He was referring to the two big MCS (Monitoring, Control and Surveillance) meetings happening in Auckland over the next couple of weeks.

The question, made me think about how I see the role of technologies in this area...

So I wrote back this:

Douglas Adams wrote "we are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works".... So I don't think that these workshops are being held/sold as miracle panaceas providers. Technology provides tools that help with solutions.

the crap I do....

the crap I do....

The problems in fisheries (in my opinion) do not relate to the lack of technology, they relate to politics and management. I have been vocal in my opinion that if we were to find solutions around subsidies and transparency, a big chunk of the issues would be gone. Rich nations spend more in subsidizing fisheries that the estimates losses of revenue from illegal fishing... Yes, the global cost of fisheries subsidies is greater than the cost of IUU fishing.

Deal with this, the rest will follow...

Deal with this, the rest will follow...

Fisheries sustainability relates to many things, but at its basics, we could abstract it to: "how much is being fished in one area, over a period of time". The technologies we are talking in these conferences, help us to know who is fishing legally and who is not, and to ID those fishing legally, knowing how much, where and for how long...

But these technologies do not infer on why countries expand fleets or other expand their fishing permits numbers. These technologies help in fine-tuning what we know is been fished, and identifying and providing evidence on those that are not playing by the rules... But technologies are not a solution for the fisheries geopolitics.

A more profound mistake is at work here, and it concerns technology in general. It is the expectation that technology can and will solve all problems, that the future will be better because technology will have made it so... But technology does not make policy decisions, in the best case scenario can only help and guide those making them

There are also some problems that technology cannot solve. Not because it is too sluggish, fragile, or clumsy, but because not all problems are instrumental, most problems in fisheries (in my opinion) are political.  

I start many of my talks with a quote of B.F. Skinner “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.”  

As far as I read, in regards the topics and the presenters, this is a technical meeting where people present the advances in their fields and what they are working on the MCS spectrum.

Some are purely technical (how this software/tool works and what it does) other are more conceptual like my one:  in the Pacific, we have this problem and this is what we are doing to help working it out, and we are using the following established technologies for this.

If you are, let's say, an oncologist you don't go to an oncology conference expecting to hear that the "cure" for cancer has been found... you go learn and hopefully pick up tools and knowledge from other people in other parts of the world, that may help you in helping your patients. I don't see these Auckland events as any different nor of less merit itself. (In fact, we have only one of these a year worldwide while you have hundreds around other topics)

Finally, there is not really "one world stock that will collapse" and will wipe out fisheries of the planet. There are thousands of fisheries that are at different levels of exploitation and there are many (an estimated 30% that are over exploited) but also many that have to stop declining and/or are recovering thanks to better management, transparency, better science and technology...

Plus, we need to remember that while fishing is old, its management is new... people was rocketing off to the moon at the time that we started getting serious about fisheries statistical models.

There is clearly a role for science and technology in fisheries sustainability. Science can determine if the management of a fishery will lead to long-term sustainability. Technology around MCS can help capture the data needed to support science determinations.

However, it would be very difficult for science and technology at present to tell you what environmental impacts are low or high enough – that is a question of individual choice or public policy.