Facial Recognition Tech Could Help Fight Overfishing

Conservationists have secured new funding to develop a system that can identify species and count fish as they're hauled out of the ocean.

The Australian arm of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has snared funding to develop a technology known as FishFace, a kind of visual species-recognition system that could help fisheries authorities gain better, faster insight about how many and what kinds of fish are being taken out of their waters.

Thanks to its "People's Choice" win in the 2016 "Google Impact Challenge: Australia" contest, the organization now has $750,000 to put toward the system.

Despite its name, FishFace will be concerned less with individual fish faces than with visually matching the types of fish being hauled in with the count of the haul. The hope is that the system's facial recognition technology can put a dent in overfishing - depleting fish supply faster than nature can replenish it - by letting regulators react fast when vessels are found exceeding allowable counts of a species.

The system will first be tested on ships in Indonesia's deep-water grouper and snapper fisheries, according to TNC.

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In an announcement of the award, TNC wrote: "64% of fisheries are now overfished and 90% of all fisheries have no effective management in place. The reason? Insufficient data. We simply don't know which species are being caught where and in what quantities to inform sustainable management."

Once installed on fishing vessels, FishFace will look to remedy that problem by monitoring catch as it's hauled on-board a ship, registering species and transmitting key findings to fisheries authorities. It would make for a cost-effective means to track fishing hauls for fisheries with little to no management structure.

It could also augment more robust setups.

In Australia, for example, multiple video cameras on commercial fishing vessels switch to record whenever sensors placed on a ship's cable gear indicate that fish are being hauled on-board. The footage of the catch - quickly running into the many gigabytes of data - is stored on hard drives that are shipped to shore for further analysis by regulatory authorities.

Ship-to-shore, real-time streaming of all of that footage is currently too expensive. But, the thinking goes, a system such as FishFace would be able to quickly tease out only the most useful information and transmit it via satellite, vastly decreasing the amount and cost of data to send to shore and making real-time response to infractions a possibility.

"The world is running out of fish. Global peak fish catch occurred in the 1980s and the global catch has been declining ever since," said TNC. "[FishFace] will reduce overfishing and sustain the livelihoods of coastal communities all around the world."

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