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.”


Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting
Updated 10 sec ago

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting
JERUSALEM: Israeli police said Saturday they had arrested 42 people following a deadly shooting at an east Jerusalem synagogue, including members of the Palestinian gunman’s family.
“The police arrested 42 suspects for questioning, some of them from the terrorist’s family,” as well as residents from his neighborhood in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, a police statement said.

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable
Updated 15 min 5 sec ago

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

CHICAGO: Leaders of several Arab-American organizations met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to express concerns over the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians and demand that Israel’s government be held accountable for it.

More than 29 Palestinians have been killed in the past four weeks and scores have been seriously injured. Several Israeli Jews were killed on Friday, allegedly by a suspected Palestinian gunman.

Blinken is planning to travel to the Middle East on Sunday, Jan. 29, and then scheduled to meet Israeli leaders on Monday and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday. He is the second member of the Biden administration to visit the region in the past two weeks. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was there two weeks ago.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute — the AAI — one of the leaders attending the briefing with Blinken in Washington D.C., said that the group pressed the secretary to impose “consequences” on Israel’s government for the violent actions targeting Palestinian civilians.

“We were pleased for the opportunity to make our views known to the secretary but the emphasis was on the need for consequences,” Zogby told Arab News.

“Absence consequences for bad behavior, Israel operates with impunity and Palestinians lose hope. We offered specific suggestions on things they might do. Consequences are important. Israel should be made to pay for bad behavior.”

Zogby said that the group also pressed Blinken on the issue of the construction in Jerusalem of the US Embassy, noting that the land where the embassy is being built is owned by Palestinians, including Palestinian Americans.

In a statement the group said that Blinken’s planned trip was being “upstaged by the recent Israeli undercover military raid in Jenin that resulted in the killing of 10 Palestinians, including civilians.”

Members of the delegation expressed concern about US policy objectives and the situation in Palestine, not just in Jenin but also the mass displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the West Bank.

“The group made it clear to the secretary that the US has a responsibility to act to restrain Israel’s aggressive behaviors toward the captive Palestinian people. Decades of US acquiescence to Israel’s policies of settlement expansion, land confiscation, home demolitions, and a range of other human rights violations have led to an Israeli sense of impunity and Palestinian despair,” the statement said.

“If the administration is to fulfill its commitment to the equal worth of Israelis and Palestinians and their rights to security, prosperity, and dignity, the group insisted that the secretary demonstrate firmness and resolve to rein in Israeli behavior.”

Other issues brought up during the meeting included Israel’s application for the US Visa Waiver Program. The program allows easy access for Israeli citizens to travel to the US but Arab leaders argued that Israel has made it extremely difficult for Arab-Americans to travel to Israel.

“Last year, Israel published military rules regarding its restrictions on visitors to the West Bank, which make clear that American citizens are discriminated against in entry to the West Bank if they indicate an intention to visit Palestinians. Those visiting Israelis face no similar restrictions,” the group said.

State Department Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf provided details of Blinken’s planned trip during a briefing late on Thursday.

“On January 29th to 30th, the secretary will go to Cairo, where he will meet with President El-Sisi, Foreign Minister Shoukry, as well as senior Egyptian officials. In those meetings, we expect that he will underscore our commitment to continuing to advance the strategic partnership we have with Egypt and to working with Egypt to promote peace and security in the region, whether it’s in support of elections in Libya or the ongoing Sudanese-led political process, or in working to ensure a calm in the Gaza Strip,” Leaf said.

“In Cairo, the secretary will also meet with Egyptian youth leaders and with Egyptian human rights defenders to underscore our commitment to human rights and our continued support for civil society and, of course, the enduring importance of people-to-people ties between our countries.”

Leaf said that Blinken will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah from Jan. 30-31.

“In Jerusalem, he’s going to have an opportunity to meet up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, of course, the prime minister is just a month into his tenure as prime minister. He’ll also meet with the foreign minister and other senior Israeli leaders,” Leaf said.

“In those meetings, the secretary will highlight the special nature of the 75-year bilateral relationship with Israel and our unstinting commitment to Israel’s security and democracy. He will also underscore the United States commitment to countering the continued spectrum of threats posed by Iran to Israel, the US, and the wider region, and ensuring Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Other groups represented during the meeting along with the AAI were AMIDEAST, the Palestinian American Congress, the Arab Center of Washington D.C., and the Al-Bireh Society.


Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’
  • Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police

TEHRAN: One of Iran’s top clerics, Nasser Makarem, has spoken out against the use of violence to force women into wearing the veil.
Iran has witnessed a wave of nationwide protests since the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the regime’s dress code for women.
Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands have been arrested in the protests, which authorities generally refer to a “riots.”
Makarem, a prominent cleric, said that he “does not consider violence and pressure to be effective in the hijab issue.”
“The president and ministers should know that they are in a difficult situation; it is true the enemy is very active, but not all avenues are closed,” he said, quoted by the IRNA news agency.

FASTFACT

Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.

“The hijab issue is currently linked to political issues, and some people say that if they can remove the veil, the regime’s system will be weakened,” the cleric added.
Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.
Earlier this month, however, Iran’s prosecutor general had called for police to “firmly punish any hijab violators.”
Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police.
The cleric’s remarks came as Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the NATO military alliance to toughen its approach to Iran, as Tehran supplies drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine.
“The crisis there goes beyond the boundaries of Ukraine, with the Iranian threat now at Europe’s doorstep,” Herzog said on a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“The illusion of distance can no longer hold. NATO must take the strongest possible stance against the Iranian regime including through economic, legal and political sanctions and credible military deterrence.”
The figurehead leader became on Thursday the first Israeli president to brief NATO’s main decision-making body.
“A terrible war continues to cause needless human suffering and compromise the well-being and welfare of millions,” Herzog said.
“Our hearts continue to go out to the people of Ukraine as they defend their homes and their country,” he said.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed “our support for Ukraine” with Herzog.
“The Ukrainian people are bravely defending their homeland and NATO allies and partners are helping to support their right to self defence,” he said.
The NATO secretary general said Herzog’s visit was a sign of the US-led alliance’s “deepening partnership” with Israel.
Herzog pointed to bolstering cooperation on cyber-security, threats from space, drones, and energy resilience.
He said the two sides were slated to sign a new cooperation agreement “in just a couple of months, which lengthens the period of cooperation and expands it reach.”

 


All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott
Updated 28 January 2023

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott
  • Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would 'not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority' of both parliament & a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined

TUNIS: Tunisians are to vote again on Sunday in elections for a parliament stripped of its powers, the final pillar of President Kais Saied’s remake of politics in the country.
The second-round vote comes as Tunisia grapples with a grave economic crisis and deep political divisions over Saied’s actions in July 2021.
Some 262 candidates, including just 34 women, are running for 131 seats in an election whose first round last month saw just 11.2 percent of registered voters take part.
That was the lowest turnout of any national vote since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The final round comes 18 months after Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, later moving to dominate the judiciary and bringing in a constitution last July that gave his office almost unlimited executive power.
Youssef Cherif, the director of Columbia Global Centers in Tunis, said Tunisians had a “lack of interest” in politics.
“This parliament will have very little legitimacy, and the president, who is all-powerful thanks to the 2022 constitution, will be able to control it as he sees fit,” he said.
Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would “not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority” of both parliament and a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined.
The legislature will have almost zero power to hold the president to account.
As during the first round, most political parties — which have been sidelined by a system that bans candidates from declaring allegiance to a political grouping — called for a boycott.
On the streets of Tunis, campaigning has been muted, with few posters on the walls and few well-known candidates.
And despite Saied’s break with the traditional political class, many Tunisians are sceptical of all politicians.
“I don’t feel I can trust anyone, so I’m not going to vote,” said carpenter Ridha.
The electoral board has organised televised debates to try to spark interest among those voters who supported Saied’s bid for the presidency in 2019.
But Tunisians, struggling with inflation of over 10 percent and repeated shortages of basic goods from milk to petrol as well as transport workers’ and teachers’ strikes, have more urgent priorities than politics.
Last week’s delivery of 170 trucks of food, a gift from the Tripoli-based government of war-torn Libya, was seen by many as a humiliation.
Redissi said the country was on “the edge of collapse.”
“Along with soaring prices, we’re seeing shortages and the president is pathetically blaming ‘speculators, traitors and saboteurs’,” he said.
But Cherif said that, despite widespread discontent, it was “possible that the status quo will continue as long as the average Tunisian doesn’t see a credible alternative to President Saied.”
Saied faced calls to quit after the first round of the election, but the opposition remains divided into three blocs: the National Salvation Front including the Ennahda party, a grouping of leftist parties, and the Free Destourian Party, seen as nostalgic for Ben Ali’s tough rule.
The election takes place in the shadow of Tunisia’s drawn-out negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout worth some $2 billion.
Cherif said the talks were stumbling over the United States’ concerns for the future of Tunisian democracy and Saied’s apparent reluctance to “accept the IMF’s diktats” on politically sensitive issues including subsidy reform.
Redissi said there was a “blatant discrepancy” between Saied’s rhetoric against the IMF and the program his government proposed to the lender “on the sly.”
“We have a president who opposes his own government,” he said.
He said the country’s only hope lay in a “rescue plan” proposed by the powerful UGTT trade union federation, the League for Human Rights, Tunisia’s Bar Association and the socio-economic rights group FTDES.

 


Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes
Updated 28 January 2023

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it is up to the international community to take action over the 2018 attack in which 50 people died
  • Stephane Dujarric once again called on the Syrian government to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 2118 and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles

NEW YORK: There are “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Douma almost five years ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Friday.
Its Investigation and Identification Team, which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of such attacks in Syria, concluded that on the evening of April 7, 2018, at least one helicopter belonging to the elite Syrian “Tiger Forces” unit dropped two yellow cylinders filled with toxic chlorine gas onto two residential buildings in the city.
Fernando Arias, the OPCW’s director-general, said: “The world now knows the facts — it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond.”
The Douma attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 43 identified civilians. Some estimates put the true death toll at 50. At least 100 people were injured.
The IIT said that it reached its conclusion on the basis of “reasonable grounds,” which is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
The IIT report, the team’s third, said that investigators, analysts and several external independent experts scrutinized the physical evidence of the attack, which included environmental and biomedical samples, witness statements and other verified data, such as forensic analyzes and satellite images.
The OPCW said: “The IIT considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: That the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told Arab News: “It’s sad that in the 21st century we need to repeat this, but the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances is intolerable.
“Impunity for the use of chemical weapons is also unacceptable and it’s imperative that those who have used chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.”
He reiterated calls for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which was unanimously adopted in September 2013 after a UN investigation confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of the victims, including children, suffocating after breathing in a nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syrian authorities from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining any chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, the Syria regime submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of stockpiles.
Almost 10 years later, the UN’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, continues to assert that the regime’s declaration cannot be considered accurate or complete. She said “gaps, inconsistencies
and discrepancies” were identified that continue to cast doubt on the true extent of the destruction of chemical weapons by the regime.
Dujarric called on the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the OPCW. The organization has for months complained that its attempts to schedule talks in Damascus about the issue have been blocked by the “continued refusal” of Syrian authorities to issue an entry visa for one member of its Declaration Assessment Team. The Syrian government accuses the team of being biased and unprofessional.
Dujarric reiterated the full support of the UN for “the integrity, the professionalism, the impartiality, the objectivity and the independence of the work of the OPCW.”
The IIT is a fact-finding entity, not a prosecutorial or judicial body, and does not make recommendations for future action, which is an issue for the policy-making bodies of the OPCW.