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EcoCast: Revolutionizing Fisheries Management with Environmental Forecasting on the west coast of the US

EcoCast: Revolutionizing Fisheries Management with Environmental Forecasting on the west coast of the US

April 17, 2024

In the dynamic world of fisheries management, the ability to make informed decisions in real-time is paramount and the emergence of cutting-edge technologies has paved the way for innovative solutions. One such tool making waves in the fishing industry on the west coast of the US is NOAA’s EcoCast—a pioneering platform that leverages environmental forecasting to revolutionise fisheries management.

NOAA’s EcoCast is a state-of-the-art tool developed to provide fishers and fisheries managers with actionable insights about best areas to fish while helping reduce accidental catches of protected species based on real-time environmental data. By integrating satellite observations (temperature, chlorophyll levels, wind speed, sea surface height, and eddy kinetic energy), oceanographic models, and species distribution models, daily computer-generated maps help fishers to locate the most productive fishing spots in near real-time while warning them where they face the greatest risk of entangling sea turtles, marine mammals, and other protected species. By integrating data on environmental conditions and species habitat preferences, EcoCast assists in mitigating bycatch.

Using the swordfish fishery as an example, EcoCast incorporates data from tagged animals, remote sensing satellites, and fisheries observers to simultaneously predict concentrations of target species (broadbill swordfish) and three protected species (leatherback turtle, blue sharks, and California sea lion) using statistically-based species distribution models. By knowing that California sea lions prefer cooler water near the coast, while leatherback turtles congregate near upwelling fronts, EcoCast can predict where these protected species are likely to be based on near real-time oceanographic conditions. In contrast, BATmap uses direct observation of fish species location through capture from participating fishing vessels. As the goal of real-time reporting is to avoid certain fish species having limited quota, e.g. cod, no predictive models are used to generate hotspot maps. Another distinct difference is EcoCast is science developed and run by government while BATmap is run by Scottish fishing industry.

 Both programs represent significant advancements in the field of fisheries management, offering powerful tools for bycatch avoidance. Through real-time participation in catch reporting within a trusted user group, stakeholders can make informed decisions to optimize fishing operations, mitigate environmental impacts, and ensure the sustainable utilization of marine resources.

Link to Daily EcoCast Map