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.”


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 8 sec ago

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports
ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
Updated 1 min 30 sec ago

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
  • The decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two MPs
  • Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.


Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
Updated 10 min 19 sec ago

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
Updated 36 min 17 sec ago

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
  • UN spokesman calls on Nasrallah to halt ‘incitement,’ threats

BEIRUT: Lebanon could plunge into total darkness by the end of August if an agreement with Iraq to supply Electricite du Liban with fuel is allowed to expire.

With fuel stocks falling to critically low levels, the Lebanese government is looking for ways to avert a major power crisis.

Fears of an energy shortfall grew on Tuesday amid threats by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

“Hezbollah is ready for war if the Israeli side decides to start drilling for gas in the Karish field on Sept. 1, in the event that no agreement is reached between Lebanon and Tel Aviv during the remaining few weeks,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on Nasrallah to avoid incitement and adding fuel to the fire in the region.

Lebanon’s last shipment of oil from Iraq in July was insufficient, EDL said, adding that it was “barely 28,000 metric tons.”

It said: “We are prioritizing vital facilities in Lebanon, namely the airport, the port, water pumps, sewage systems and basic state headquarters.”

EDL also warned of low production capacity, which will reach a maximum of 250 megawatts within days. “This will negatively affect the stability of the network, which sometimes exposes it to blackouts that may be repeated several times per day, despite the exceptional efforts to stabilize the electrical network as much as possible.”

The Ministry of Energy, under the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, has been actively searching for an alternative to Iraqi oil, focusing on Algeria and Iran as potential sources.

Nasrallah suggested in July accepting an Iranian donation of fuel to address the crisis, provided that it reaches Lebanese and not Syrian ports, adding: “This, however, requires an official Lebanese decision.”

Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said: “The Iraqi side is positive regarding the fuel file, and we are counting on extending the agreement between Lebanon and Iraq. The Iraqis did not refuse to extend the agreement, but rather wished to reexamine it before reaching a solution in the next few days.”

Fayyad said that an Iraqi delegation will visit Lebanon to discuss several issues. “We are seeking a great understanding with the Iraqi government,” he said.

Iraq was reportedly hesitant to extend the contract over concerns that Lebanon could fail to pay for the imported fuel in the future.

Speaking on the potential Iranian donation, and if sanctions would prevent Beirut accepting it, Fayyad said that Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mojtaba Amani stressed Tehran’s readiness to offer free fuel to Lebanon.

“The Iranian donation would help Lebanon to cross this difficult stage, and the ministry has sent the Iranian side the specifications of the required fuel. The Iranian side requested that a team be formed to discuss this donation, and we are waiting for Mikati’s word to proceed,” Fayyad said.

Mikati’s media office said: “Amani has voiced his country’s readiness to provide the donation of fuel. Mikati thanked Iran for the offer and requested follow-up on this issue with the Ministry of Energy to ensure the technical specifications of the fuel. No official steps have been taken in this regard.”

Some analysts have warned that Iranian fuel is incompatible with Lebanon’s power plants, and that the donated fuel would need to be swapped with a third country for domestic use.  

According to an informed source, the Ministry of Energy is seeking to meet with Algerian energy companies to reach an agreement to supply fuel on concessional terms, but progress has stalled.

The process of importing Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity is still stumbling as a result of the World Bank’s delay in approving a loan to finance the project, owing to Lebanon’s failure in implementing conditions of the deal.


Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus
Updated 55 min 28 sec ago

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus
  • 3 Jewish passengers refused to travel with Arabs
  • Company: Driver swayed by ‘racist manipulation’

LONDON: An Israeli public transport firm has issued an apology after a racist incident in which 50 Palestinian workers were removed from a bus following complaints from Jewish customers. 

The incident in Tel Aviv sparked controversy after reports that three Jewish passengers boarded in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of the city and refused to share the bus with Arabs. 

The bus firm, Tnufa, said one of the Jewish passengers conned the driver into believing that he was an official from the Transport Ministry, and threatened the driver.

Israelis and Palestinians use the bus to go to and from the West Bank, the BBC reported, adding that Israeli law prohibits segregated services.

Tnufa said the driver was inexperienced and had been swayed by “racist manipulation.” It added that one of the Jewish passengers falsely claimed that the Transport Ministry had ordered that Arabs needed to be kicked off the route.

“The new driver said he argued with the imposter, but he told him that he could lose his job or receive a large fine if he did not follow the instructions immediately,” Tnufa said.

“The company apologises to the passengers for the unfortunate incident,” Tnufa’s CEO Mikhael Kopilovsky said in a statement, adding that “many of our drivers and workers at the company are Arabs.”