How AI is advancing the Middle East’s goal of sustainable fishing

Special A worker vends freshly-caught fish at a pier in the Egyptian town of Ezbet al-Borg along the Nile river delta's Damietta branch. (AFP file)
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A worker vends freshly-caught fish at a pier in the Egyptian town of Ezbet al-Borg along the Nile river delta's Damietta branch. (AFP file)
Special A worker unloads iced freshly-caught fish off a fishing boat at a pier in the Egyptian town of Ezbet al-Borg along the Nile river delta's Damietta branch. (AFP file photo)
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A worker unloads iced freshly-caught fish off a fishing boat at a pier in the Egyptian town of Ezbet al-Borg along the Nile river delta's Damietta branch. (AFP file photo)
Special A fisherman on the Nile catches a tilapia. The river’s basin is the site of a new scheme using AI to track fish stocks, below, which, it is hoped, will improve the sustainability of fishing in the region. (AFP)
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A fisherman on the Nile catches a tilapia. The river’s basin is the site of a new scheme using AI to track fish stocks, below, which, it is hoped, will improve the sustainability of fishing in the region. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2022

How AI is advancing the Middle East’s goal of sustainable fishing

How AI is advancing the Middle East’s goal of sustainable fishing
  • Experts working on new Nile project say digital tools can transform sustainability and help support UNSDGs
  • AI offers hope to challenges relating to region’s food security and depleting resources in the world’s oceans

DUBAI: Dutch academics and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization have launched a vital new project that is using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology to improve the identification and measurement of fish species and stocks in the Nile Basin.

It could become a key tool in the quest for sustainability and food security by improving the collection of vital data from fishing communities around the region.

The initiative, supported by Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, is the latest development in a decades-long effort launched in the 1970s by FAO to help countries carry out better identification of species for fisheries purposes, so that the collection of data about fish catches can be enhanced and the fishing industry improved.




A fisherman on the Nile catches a tilapia. The river’s basin is the site of a new scheme using AI to track fish stocks, below, which, it is hoped, will improve the sustainability of fishing in the region. (AFP)

“This helps people to understand long-term trends in what is happening with fisheries through time,” said Kim Friedman, a senior fishery resources officer at FAO. “The initial push was mainly to do species identification guides and most of these were done with the museums of the world, so that a country could pick up a guide and know exactly which species it was. But then we started to also do posters and pocket guides so people could carry them in boats.”

The tools have evolved thanks to critical new work, supported by artificial intelligence, that could transform ocean-conservation efforts that are much needed given that many of the world’s fish species are in decline.

Once a very costly, time-consuming process carried out by observers on vessels, species tracking using advanced technology can now be so detailed that the data can even pinpoint the freshness of fish.




Nile tilapia is one of the world's most popular cultured freshwater fish. (FAO photo)

Edwin van Helmond, a fisheries scientist at Wageningen Marine Research, which is part of WUR, said that the potential for the use of AI and other technologies in supporting fisheries management is huge.

“The fact that detailed catch information can be collected through algorithms, without the presence of experts, makes data collection available in remote areas,” he told Arab News. “Data can be sent or collected at a later stage or directly stored in a data cloud and made remotely available for experts.”

He believes such technology will also greatly benefit food security in the long term, which is a major challenge facing the Gulf region, and also the sustainable management of natural resources, which begins with the collection of sufficient data.




FAO is testing algorithms that can calculate sustainable harvest quantities without the danger of over exploitation. (Photo credit: FAO)

“To be able to perform a good assessment of the available resources, in this case local fish stocks, you need good data,” he said. “This includes detailed catch information by species, catch weight, and length frequencies.

“These variables form the input for any stock-assessment model, and with these models you can calculate sustainable harvest quantities without the danger of over exploitation, which equates to sustainable management of local fish stocks and long-term food security.”

FAO is now trying to make the technology more accessible so that more people in the industry can benefit from it, which in turn will help the organization expand its data sets. Comprehensive information about each species would be used to build algorithms that can identify species and their locations and recognize any changes.

FASTFACTS

Climate change, diminishing fish stocks and over-fishing are threatening coastal communities.

AI and mobile apps are helping fishermen worldwide engage in sustainable fishing practices.

Once such algorithms are developed, an app will allow users to search for specific species using imagery that can unlock information such as the features of the species, food values and other fisheries-related data.

“In the future, anyone, even a fisherman, could take pictures of his catch, send them off, get the species identification and, potentially, also some metrics like the size of the fish,” eventually developing a portfolio of trends in the waters in which they work, Helmond said.

The project in the Nile Basin, which will run for three to five years, will also look at certain country requirements in terms of languages, reporting and ensuring data sets meet the desired levels of security.

So far, e. The system mirrors recreational fishing identification efforts in European rivers and lakes, where communities fund systems that can identify catches and develop appropriate codes of practice among themselves.




Advances in technology are expected to play a leading role in the promotion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and ensure their growth. (AN file photo) 

“This then feeds back into understanding how well the different rivers or lake systems are doing and which ones maybe need to be augmented with hatchery-reared fish,” Friedman said.

“It allows people to link up with others who would not have potentially linked up in the past.”

A key to success will be data gathering by as many stakeholders as possible, said Friedman. The resultant benefits for all those involved will be the best possible algorithms.

“There is also an ability for us to start to collect pictures from around the Nile to tell people they can catch this type of fish in good sizes and condition in a specific location,” he added. “So (this addresses) issues about sustainability and also looking for market opportunities.”

The Global Fishing Watch platform, a collaboration between Google, nonprofit environmental digital-mapping organization SkyTruth and conservation organization Oceana, was one of the first attempts to combine AI with satellite data to observe fishing activity.




Google, along with the nonprofit environmental digital-mapping organization SkyTruth and conservation organization Oceana, are working on an AI project to combine studies with satellite data to observe fishing activity worldwide. (Global Fishing Watch)

The technology also offers hope for efforts to address diminishing freshwater resources across the region, which has some of the lowest levels of fresh water in the world, mainly in the form of underground, non-renewable stocks. Freshwater reserves have fallen by 60 percent in the past four decades, according to FAO, and what remains is expected to diminish by 50 percent by 2050.

Advances in technology are expected to play a leading role in the creation of international policies to promote sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and ensure their growth, with artificial intelligence helping to address what is now a global environmental concern. The data that is gathered will allow fish and seafood retailers and customers to be more aware of whether what they are selling and consuming is sustainable.

Innovation also holds the key to making farming and the entire agri-food value chain more attractive, creating business and employment opportunities and helping the region to achieve food security, sustainable agriculture and the objectives of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.




Advances in technology are expected to play a leading role in the promotion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and ensure their growth. (AN file photo) 

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu believes the latest collaborative project is a vital step toward achieving this.

“A focused and strengthened framework between FAO and Wageningen University and Research will allow our partnership to better align efforts and resources for greater impact in meeting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

In addition to the Nile project, FAO and WUR are collaborating on several other initiatives related to the sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture value chains.

In the African, Caribbean and Pacific States, for example, a joint project called FISH4ACP is providing expertise on multi-stakeholder partnerships that is contributing to food security and increased nutrition, prosperity and job creation.

Just last month, authorities in Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for 49 percent of the Gulf’s aquaculture, announced they are working to establish a regional center for fisheries as part of wider goals to diversify the national economy and address food security.




Saudi Arabia is responsible for 49 percent of the Gulf region's aquaculture industry. (Supplied)

Friedman said that such initiatives have the potential to rapidly spread across the region and beyond.

“If we look back through time, all the regional guides that were put together to understand fisheries started off in certain regions and now are global,” he said.

“I suspect we will have the same thing happen not just for the Nile, but for inshore fisheries, pelagic (open sea) fisheries and so on, based on the opportunities that AI will offer us.”


Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
Updated 27 November 2022

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
  • Crew survived and no damage caused on the ground after technical malfunction
  • Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June

CAIRO: An Egyptian fighter plane crashed on Sunday while training, the Egyptian army said.

Gharib Abdel-Hafez, a military spokesman, said on Facebook that the crew survived and that no damage was caused on the ground. He did not identify the location of the crash, which he said was caused by a technical malfunction.

Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June. The pilot survived that accident, the spokesman added.

Separately, the British Red Arrows arrived at an air base in southern Egypt to take part in the Hurghada Air Show 2022 over the city of Sahl Hasheesh on Wednesday.

According to the spokesman, the Red Arrows will join the Egyptian Silver Stars team for the event.


Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 27 November 2022

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
  • Center also performed region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on an MS patient, who has reported an improvement in her overall condition

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center has performed the region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on a patient suffering from multiple sclerosis, Emirates News Agency reported. 

This achievement marks a major advance in cell therapy and regenerative medicine capabilities to treat a range of diseases, including cancer and immune disorders.

Doctors at ADSCC performed the region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on a patient with MS earlier this month and the patient has since reported an improvement in her overall condition. The treatment aims to “reset” a person’s immune system and can be used for those with relapsing forms of MS.

“We are extremely proud of our achievement at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center to become the first centre in the region to perform the BMT on a MS patient. It fills us with great pride to make such a life-saving treatment here in Abu Dhabi,” said ADSCC’s CEO Dr Yendry Ventura. 

The AHSCT procedure carried out by ADSCC is a “standard of care” and not just a “clinical option” under the updated European Group for Blood & Marrow Transplantation and American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation guidelines from 2019, which reviewed the clinical evidence of AHSCT on MS patients. 

The transplant success follows ADSCC’s ground-breaking work on COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic. These included UAECell19, which was used as a stem cell therapy to help regenerate lung capacity in thousands of COVID-19 patients.

 


Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
Updated 27 November 2022

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
  • “O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video
  • “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power,” she said

DUBAI: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s niece, a well known rights activist, has called on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran over its violent crackdown on popular unrest kindled by the death in police custody of a young woman.
A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on Nov. 23.
“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video. “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power.”
Khamenei’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors. It said 60 members of the security forces had been killed, and 18,173 protesters detained.
The protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for “inappropriate attire,” pose one of the strongest challenges to the country’s clerical establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a member of parliament from the mainly Kurdish city of Mahabad, said on Sunday that as many as 105 people had been killed in Kurdish-populated areas during the protests. He was speaking in a debate in parliament as quoted by the Entekhan website.
Widespread opposition 
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy.
The video was shared on YouTube on Friday by her brother, France-based Mahmoud Moradkhani, who presents himself as “an opponent of the Islamic Republic” on his Twitter account, and then by prominent Iranian rights activists.
On Nov. 23, Mahmoud Moradkhani reported her sister’s arrest as she was heeding a court order to appear at the Tehran prosecutor’s office. Farideh had been arrested earlier this year by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and later released on bail.
HRANA said she was in Tehran’s Evin security prison. Moradkhani, it said, had earlier faced a 15-year prison sentence on unspecified charges.
Her father, Ali Moradkhani Arangeh, was a Shiite cleric married to Khamenei’s sister and recently passed away in Tehran following years of isolation due to his stance against the Islamic Republic, according to his website.
Farideh Moradkhani added in her video: “Now is the time for all free and democratic countries to recall their representatives from Iran as a symbolic gesture and to expel the representatives of this brutal regime from their countries.”
On Thursday, the United Nations’ top human rights body decided by a comfortable margin to establish a new investigative mission to look into Tehran’s violent security crackdown on the anti-government protests.
Criticism of the Islamic Republic by relatives of top officials is not unprecedented. In 2012, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was sentenced to jail for “anti-state propaganda.”
Iranian authorities released on bail the activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi on Nov. 26 to undergo medical treatment, according to his brother writing on Twitter.
Concerns had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. 


Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
Updated 27 November 2022

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
  • US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities
  • Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen said the Houthi attacks on oil ports are “terrorist operations”

The Houthis must be classified as a terrorist group, Yemen’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, told on Sunday the US Ambassador to Yemen, Steven Fagin. 

The Yemeni government is planning on designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, Mubarak said, stressing the importance of the international community's support for those decisions.

The two sides discussed the challenges that face the peace process, and the Houthis threat to international navigation and international peace and security, state news agency SABA reported.

Mubarak said that the Houthis aimed to “brainwash society” and impose a “racist identity” instead of the national one, the report said.

The US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities, stressing the United States’ support for the security, stability and unity of Yemen.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed al-Jaber, said that the Houthi attacks, using Iranian weapons, on oil ports are “terrorist operations.”  He added that Houthi attacks on civilian facilities harm the interests of Yemeni people.

“The international community is working to support the truce, and we encourage those efforts,” the ambassador said.

“We hope that international efforts will contribute to pushing the Houthis to support the peace process.”

He also the Arab Monetary Fund will help the Central Bank of Yemen to stabilize the economy.


Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
Updated 27 November 2022

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
  • Threat of Daesh resurgence ‘is being used as pressure tactic on US to convince Ankara to de-escalate situation’
  • Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK

ANKARA: Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces Mazloum Abdi has told reporters that his troops have halted operations against Daesh following Turkiye’s aerial attacks on northern Syria over the past week. 

Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday during Turkiye’s anti-terror operation in northern Iraq to clear the area of terrorists.

Amid signs that Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive with the help of Turkiye-backed opposition fighters, Abdi’s statement from the US-backed Kurdish forces is considered a message to Washington to put pressure on Turkiye to prevent any military move in the region.

At a time when the US is attempting to assess its relations with its NATO ally and its Kurdish partners in Syria, Turkiye’s recent air attacks have drawn some criticism from Washington regarding their close proximity to adjacent coalition bases where US soldiers are stationed.

Ankara blames Syrian offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party for the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street that killed six Turkish citizens and injured more than 80.

Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK.

Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute, believes that the US will not oppose Ankara as it has done in the past.

He told Arab News: “The importance of Syria is fast retreating for the US government in favor of Ukraine, and the relative significance of the YPG is diminishing.

“Turkiye’s support for the Ukraine militarily against the Russian invasion, and Ankara’s critical position as a broker for the grain corridor deal, have also added to their value for the US in the strategic picture.”

According to Cagaptay, Turkiye has also used its leverage in the wake of supporting Swedish and Finnish bids to join NATO.

He added: “NATO’s allies have voiced support for Turkiye and did not criticize their arguments against the YPG.”

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, says “the Syrian Kurds are using the threat of a Daesh resurgence as a pressure tactic on the US to convince Turkiye to de-escalate the situation.”

He told Arab News: “This is very similar to what unfolded during the 2019 Operation Peace Spring offensive in which former US President Donald Trump was heavily criticized for green-lighting Turkiye’s offensive and allowing Daesh to experience a potential recovery."

The SDF’s strategy is unlikely to work, according to Ramani, and he says it is difficult to see Washington now facing the same kind of blowback as Trump received in 2019. 

He said that Turkiye “has emerged as a critical mediator in the Ukraine war and the US has refrained from sanctions against the country over the continued use of S-400 systems for this reason.”

He added: “If it is not objecting to the procurement of Russian military technology, the US certainly will not crack down very hard on Turkiye over an escalation in northern Syria or Iraq.

“SDF officials have admitted their concern that the US will not do enough, and perceive the US as being disengaged from the Syrian conflict overall.”

SDF’s Abdi said that Turkish airstrikes over the past week had damaged the region’s infrastructure.

He added: “The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against Daesh are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped.”

Cagaptay believes that the SDF and YPG were once important partners for the US in beating Daesh, which is now defeated.

The SDF, which is the key US partner in combating Daesh in Syria, has also warned about the importance of retaining intact the security of the Al-Hol camp, which is home to Daesh family members, while the Kurdish authorities operate several detention facilities in northeastern Syria that host thousands of opposition fighters.

Cagaptay said: “YPG’s main role is now reduced to prison-keeper of the locations holding relatives of the extremists, mostly Iraqi and Syrians, that no Western country wants to take back.”

SDF’s comments came at the time of fresh reports that bases hosting US-led coalition forces in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh had been targeted by two rockets. The attacks were believed to have been perpetrated by militias backed by Iran.

In a short statement on Wednesday, US Central Command announced that American troops were put at risk, but no service members were injured in the strike.

Turkiye’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that his forces would never harm coalition forces or civilians, after being questioned over allegations that warplanes hit targets near a US base in northern Syria.

Akar also held a meeting on Saturday with Chief of Turkish General Staff Yasar Guler and authorities from Turkish Land Forces Command in Ankara.

Cagaptay said: “Diminishing the security of the camps as a retaliation for Turkiye’s airstrikes will only end US support to the YPG and reduce the significance of the Syrian Kurds in the eyes of US policymakers.”

Turkiye has continued airstrikes — using fighter jets and drones — against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Syria to remove militants from the border.

Experts believe that SDF statements will not alter Turkiye’s plans to pursue a potential ground operation, the fourth of its kind since 2016, in the west of the Euphrates River in the coming weeks.

Ankara and Moscow agreed in 2019 to pull YPG forces back 30 km to the south of the Turkish border. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkiye “is determined to make its borders safe against terrorism.”

He added: “Hopefully, with these operations, we show our determination to gradually make every inch of our country safe, starting from beyond the border.”