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Monday, 26 February 2018


PUBLIC’s Director of Insight Max Chambers analyses the opportunities new technology can provide the UK fishing industry post-Brexit.

It’s clear from the Government’s various position papers on Brexit that the UK will be heavily reliant on technology for implementing new arrangements with the EU. But as well as enabling new borders, customs, security and data-sharing processes, there are also major opportunities for using new technology to harness the key opportunities of Brexit for British industry.

Defra, one of the most forward-thinking and innovative government departments, has already shown its commitment to thinking creatively in this space, with the announcement of a new £40 million farming productivity and innovation fund, as well as measures to use technology to promote livestock traceability.

One area where cutting-edge technology could play a major role as we leave the EU is fisheries. Fishing is an extremely important economic driver in the UK, employing over 24,000 people and contributing around £1.4bn to our economy.

Current Issues

One major issue in the fishing industry is the current ‘landing’ obligation, which aims to ensure that all fish catches are properly recorded, reported and counted. Unfortunately, this is often not what happens now. The landing obligation has been notably difficult to control and enforce; with many vessels participating in harmful and unsustainable fishing practices such as discarding (the illegal dumping of low-value fish to free up quota space) and transshipment (illegally transferring fish between ships) in order to maximise the value of their catch.

In fact, recent estimates value the total costs of EU discards at approximately £1.6 billion annually, which shows that attempts to control the landing obligation have been far from successful. The big prize to be solved is that of Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is a €10bn annual problem, or roughly 19% of all reported catches. This is both a massive drain on the economy and a problem for sustainability and the wider environment.

IUU Fishing Practices

Tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – EU Commission Infographic

Brexit Opportunity

At the moment, fisheries in the UK are managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which fixes our national catch quota, and guarantees UK access to certain fishing zones. However, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will result in its full withdrawal from the CFP, and present a major opportunity to negotiate an entirely new set of fishing policies – to help the UK fishing industry operate more efficiently, economically, and ethically. As part of these efforts, we will want to significantly enhance our ability to monitor activities at sea, maintaining confidence throughout the supply chain, and avoiding overfishing and the depletion of UK stocks.


Monitoring all activity across open seas is impossible, but with the help of technology, enforcement bodies can increase penetration and improve their chances of catching illegal and unethical fishing activities.

For example, projects such as ‘Eyes on the Seas’, which uses satellite technology and virtual watch rooms to track vessel movements, coupled with algorithms to automatically flag signs of suspicious behaviour, can help detect illegal or suspicious fishing activity in real-time.

“There is an immense opportunity to transform the way we run our fishing industry…”

There are also a number of UK entrepreneurs who are devising technological solutions to increase efficiency and compliance: two brothers have developed iCatch, which allows fishermen to submit their IFCA shellfish returns via an app.

Another interesting company, SafetyNet Technologies, builds devices that use light to increase selectivity of commercial fishing practises; this disruptive technology can reduce bycatch/improve fishing efficiency and environmental data capture.


Blockchain is the word on everyone’s lips, and it is not always easy to separate the hype from the substance – you can see our CTO, Andy Richardson’s, thoughts on this here.

However, the application of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to the fisheries industry has already shown extremely promising results. The WWF, in partnership with major US-based tech innovators and implementers, has recently launched a pilot project in the Pacific Islands that will use DLT to track the journey of tuna from “bait to plate”. Early trials have indicated that DLT could provide a cost-effective and reliable solution for promoting traceability across the UK fishing supply chain.


Aquafarms are discussed widely as a means to sustainably provide food for the population in the future, with some commentators predicting that they will overshadow traditional fishing as the primary means by which we obtain fish for consumption.

However, even these closed environments require a great deal of monitoring, to avoid poisoning and disease outbreak. Technology in aquafarms h