• Kyodo

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The fishing industry has been experimenting with artificial intelligence, to pass on the skills of experienced fishers amid a serious shortage of newcomers entering the industry.

AI is being tapped to revolutionize the sector and boost profits by analyzing past fishing data, weather conditions and ocean currents, to forecast the locations of fertile fishing grounds or propose efficient methods for oyster culture farming.

“AI shows this is the area for a good catch today,” says Taizo Takasu, the executive director of Takasui, a fisheries company in Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture, holding a tablet in his hand.

Takasu, 52, is a chief fisherman of a fleet that catches sardines and mackerel with fishing nets offshore in southwestern Kyushu. Since last year, he has been taking part in an experiment that uses AI to select fishing areas.

“There is still room for further improvement in terms of accuracy, but it has been making a decent selection,” Takasu said.

Developed by Ocean Solution Technology Inc., an IT company based in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, the system has amassed a database not only of the location and catch volumes of the past, but also sea temperatures and even the intuition of an experienced fisher in selecting fertile fishing grounds.

When marine meteorology information is typed in for the day, the system presents advice on prospective fishing grounds while also taking into account fuel costs.

Selecting a fishing spot is an important task for a chief fisher, who oversees operations, as that largely determines whether a good haul is attained.

“It takes several years for an inexperienced chief fisherman to achieve a good catch,” Takasu says, adding that he hopes the AI could provide valuable support to newcomers.

Meanwhile, the city of Etajima in Hiroshima Prefecture is co-developing an AI system to predict optimal sea areas for oyster farming, together with the University of Tokyo and Sharp Corp.

Floating in the Seto Inland Sea — the body of water separating Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu — is a state-of-the-art oyster culturing raft, 20 meters in length and breadth, equipped with buoy sensors that measure water temperature and salinity concentration.

Every year, oyster farmers move the oyster culturing rafts to optimal places to collect the fertilized egg larvae, where they grow until harvested. But collecting young oysters, known as spats, is difficult as the season and oyster spawning location change every year, in some cases costing several million yen in losses to oyster farmers.

The researchers have focused on waters that become white and cloudy, indicating where larvae float. A drone spots the white waters from the sky and allows the AI system to analyze and predict the most suitable place and period for larvae collection. That information is sent to the oyster farmers’ smartphones in real time.

“It’s convenient to be able to see what’s going on in the sea while I’m onshore,” says Yoshihiro Shimoie, 32, an official with the Uchinomi Fisheries Cooperative Association in Etajima.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has been supporting the training of a new generation of fishers at a time when the industry is in steep decline. The number of fishers, excluding those in inland fisheries who work on rivers, fell to 152,082 in 2018 — the lowest since 1963 — ministry data showed.

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