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, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce
Updated 56 min 8 sec ago

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce
  • Yair Lapid thanks Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for Cairo’s mediation

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid held talks following Sunday night’s Cairo-brokered truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, where fighting last week left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children.

During their phone call, El-Sisi said it is crucial to build on the current calm and take immediate steps to improve living conditions in Gaza and support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lapid reaffirmed Egypt’s role as a cornerstone for Middle East peace, expressing his gratitude for its effective mediation in recent days.

In a statement, Lapid said he and El-Sisi “talked about the importance of promoting and developing normalization between Israel and the countries of the region and the importance of dialogue for achieving stability in the region.”

They also discussed “important humanitarian issues for the two countries and the continuation of economic cooperation between them.”

The truce ended the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year. Israel began its operation by assassinating an Islamic Jihad leader on Friday, and killed another of its leaders on Saturday.


Hezbollah warns Israel against targeting Palestinian militants in Lebanon

Hezbollah warns Israel against targeting Palestinian militants in Lebanon
Updated 09 August 2022

Hezbollah warns Israel against targeting Palestinian militants in Lebanon

Hezbollah warns Israel against targeting Palestinian militants in Lebanon
  • Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah: ‘Any attack on any human being will not go unpunished or unanswered’
  • Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz hinted at the possible targeting of Islamic Jihad officials abroad

The head of Lebanon’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, warned on Tuesday against any Israeli attempts to expand their targeting of Palestinian militants to Lebanon.
“Any attack on any human being will not go unpunished or unanswered,” Nasrallah said in a televised address marking Ashura, a melancholic commemoration for Shiite Muslims of the killing the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.
The comments came after a flare-up in violence between Israel and the Islamic Jihad movement in the Gaza strip, prompted by Israel’s arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad leader earlier this month.
On Saturday, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz hinted at the possible targeting of Islamic Jihad officials abroad, who he said could be seen in “restaurants and hotels in Tehran, Syria and Lebanon.”
“They too will have to pay the price,” Gantz said.
On Monday, a day after a truce brokered by Egypt ended the Gaza violence, he said Israel could carry out “pre-emptive strikes” abroad.
“In the future too, if necessary, we will deliver a pre-emptive strike in order to defend Israel’s citizens, sovereignty and infrastructure and this is true for all fronts, from Teheran to Khan Younis,” he said.
Iran-backed Hezbollah is vehemently opposed to Israel and tensions between the two have been escalating in recent months over a disputed maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.


Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon mark festival of Ashoura

Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon mark festival of Ashoura
Updated 09 August 2022

Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon mark festival of Ashoura

Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon mark festival of Ashoura
  • The public rituals of Ashoura often fuels sectarian tensions in places like Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan where Islam’s two main sects both reside

BAGHDAD: Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon chanted, paraded and beat their chests on Tuesday as they marked Ashoura, one of the most important dates on the religious calendar, commemorating the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.
The symbols of Shiite piety and penitence blanketed major cities in Iraq, where Hussein was believed killed at the battle of Karbala, south of Baghdad, in 680 A.D.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Karbala, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, to observe the solemn holy day.
Shiites see Hussein and his descendants as the rightful heirs to the prophet. His killing at the hands of a rival Muslim faction embodies the rift between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam and continues to shape the identity of the minority branch of Islam today.
The public rituals of Ashoura often fuels sectarian tensions in places like Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan where Islam’s two main sects both reside.
Security forces were on high alert for any violence, as extremist groups that consider the Shiites heretics have seized on the occasion to mount attacks in years past.
In Iraq, the powerful cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has used the emotional religious occasion to stir up support for his movement, deepening the country’s inter-Shiite divisions. Unable to form a government, Iraq descended further into political chaos last week when thousands of Al-Sadr’s supporters stormed and occupied the parliament building. Their sit-in continues outside the assembly, making it impossible for lawmakers to convene and raising the specter of civil strife.
In the Shiite-dominated Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, Al-Sadr’s portrait hangs from nearly every door. Processions of men and boys expressed extreme fervor in the Ashoura rituals of self-flagellation on Tuesday. They beat their heads and chests in unison and whipped themselves with chains to the point of bleeding.
“We inherited this from our fathers and grandfathers,” said participant Hamza Abdul-Jalil. “God willing, we will continue on this path.”
In Lebanon, processions shut down Shiite areas across the country and Beirut’s biggest suburb.


Palestinians say Israel troops kill 3 in West Bank raid

Palestinians say Israel troops kill 3 in West Bank raid
Updated 09 August 2022

Palestinians say Israel troops kill 3 in West Bank raid

Palestinians say Israel troops kill 3 in West Bank raid
  • Last week, Israel arrested Bassam Al-Saadi, a senior militant in the West Bank city of Jenin

JERUSALEM: Israeli troops killed three Palestinians and injured dozens more in a shootout Tuesday during an arrest operation in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The shootout came a day after a cease-fire ended three days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli police said forces encircled the home of Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, who they say was wanted for a string of shootings in the West Bank earlier this year. It confirmed that Al-Nabulsi and another Palestinian militant were killed in a shootout at the scene, and that troops found arms and explosives in his home.
The Israeli military said that troops came under attack from Palestinians throwing rocks and explosives, and that soldiers responded with live fire. It confirmed Palestinians were shot, but did not elaborate on their condition.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said that three people were killed — Al-Nabulsi, Islam Sabouh and Hussein Jamal Taha — and at least 40 others were wounded.
Israel has conducted near nightly arrest raids in the West Bank in recent months as part of a crackdown on Palestinian militant groups in the aftermath of a string of deadly attacks targeting Israelis earlier this year that left 19 people dead. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops during these arrest raids.
Last week, Israel arrested Bassam Al-Saadi, a senior militant in the West Bank city of Jenin, during one of the nightly operations. The group said it was going “on alert,” and on Friday Israel said it had launched a series of strikes on militant targets in the Gaza Strip in response to an “imminent threat” by the militant group.
During the three days of Gaza fighting, at least 46 Palestinians were killed, including 16 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Twelve of those killed were militants, one was from a smaller armed group, and two were Hamas-affiliated policemen who were not taking part in the fighting, according to the armed factions.
Israel estimated that a total of 47 Palestinians were killed, including 14 killed by misfired rockets. It said 20 militants and seven civilians died in Israeli airstrikes and that it was still investigating six deaths.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and the Palestinians seek it as the heartland of their future state. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people, and has constructed dozens of settlements, now home to over 400,000 Israelis.
The Palestinians and much of the international community consider Israel’s West Bank settlements a violation of international law and an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict.


UAE ambassador to Hungary praises Hungarian PM’s statements on rights of children, families 

UAE ambassador to Hungary praises Hungarian PM’s statements on rights of children, families 
Updated 09 August 2022

UAE ambassador to Hungary praises Hungarian PM’s statements on rights of children, families 

UAE ambassador to Hungary praises Hungarian PM’s statements on rights of children, families 

The UAE Ambassador to Hungary, Saud Hamad Al Shamsi, has praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s statements on protecting the rights of children and families, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Monday. 

The ambassador said Orban’s statements emphasized the role of values and morals in protecting the institution of marriage, strengthening family ties, and upholding children’s right to parental care in an environment in which safety prevails and the integrity of families and society is preserved, WAM said.