SnapIT for the Fishing Industry

June 2016

A tool has been developed to help ensure sustainable fisheries

Brothers Chris and Andrew Rodley developed the SnapIT camera in their garage in Nelson. Alongside industry stakeholders Trident Systems, they have successfully developed an onboard fishing boat system that audits catch limits and safe, legal fishing practices – a system that promises to better safety, reduce compliance costs and assure the ongoing sustainability of our wild fisheries.

The device was better than many on the market with a fixed camera providing a unique 360° footage. Further customers could pan around geographically, or scroll backwards and forwards in time, just by clicking and dragging a mouse. The camera was picked up for security operations and tourism applications.

The key turning point for SnapIT was a serendipitous moment on the Auckland waterfront. Chris was installing a camera on a building when, “this guy approached me to ask if I could put one on a boat”. The guy turned out to be Eric Barratt, then managing director of fishing company, Sanford. Barratt had the perfect problem for SnapIT: how to make surveillance cameras tough and reliable enough to be used instead of human observers on New Zealand’s fishing fleet.

Presently New Zealand has the most sustainable wild fishery in the world due to the current fisheries management regime. Part of this edge is the commitment of independent quota holders and ongoing efforts by MPI to continually improve their fisheries observer function.

At the moment most auditing and enforcement of catch limits, bycatch and safe, legal fishing practices is difficult and usually involves the expensive presence of Fisheries Observers. Fisheries Observers cannot be present on every boat, during every trip and sometimes weather is such that even when on a boat they cannot be on deck.

There had been earlier efforts looking at camera technology for compliance and sustainability. The key issues they’d encountered were the limited view of the cameras and the extreme environments that the cameras had to operate in.

The SnapIT camera already was ahead of the game in solving the ‘blind spot’ issues of other cameras with it’s 360 degree view. Their system also enabled users to pan and zoom for details and they had some clever ideas for using wifi to get the footage to shore without the need for hard drives on the boat that had been logistically problematic.

SnapIT partnered with Trident Systems on the ‘Fish Eye Project’ for MPI. Trident Systems is a research and development partnership made up of a number of commercial fisheries quota holders. These industry shareholders recognise the need to innovate and that research will assure the NZ industry continues to find sustainable alternatives in order to grow and thrive. Trident operates independently.

Darren from Trident says a key point of difference in the research is that the industry have been able to work directly with the SnapIt to input into the camera.

The Fisheye Project has spent the last 3 years developing the technology to a point where they’ve proved to MPI that the cameras work, and are a cost-effective alternative to humans, particularly with the smaller boats.

“We’ve demonstrated video observation can be an adequate replacement for human observers. And it’s significantly cheaper. We haven’t done it at a large enough scale yet to be fully confident how much cheaper, but we believe it’s at least 50%.”

For example the system reduces Fisheries Observer’s hours – 24 hours of real time footage can be reviewed from a safe port in 2 hours. Fisheries Observer’s are positive about the system as if reduces long trips away from home improving their lifestyle and personal safety.

The system means that incident investigations can be reduced saving time and money. They also remove the subjectivity/human interference from the incident accounts.

Investigations for significant incidents can take 2 people about a month to investigate and outcomes are often reliant on interview techniques and subjective accounts. There have been recent examples of MPI using the electronic systems to corroborate accounts of accidental fish loss, proving that this type of monitoring has clear benefits to both industry and Government.

Right now the system is in a mature operational phase on a number of vessels within NZ. Tracking data from the ships is being beamed to shore by satellite every five minutes (rather than every four hours, as in the past), which means fisheries officials can keep tabs on boats, allowing them, for example, to link any dumping of fish with a particular fishing vessel.

In terms of reception by the fishermen, they were initially a little fearful of the ‘black box’ but with experience of the system they’ve been very quick to come on board. Skippers are reporting favourably on the system. Darren reports on one skipper who summed it up, “I don’t have to feed it, pretend to like it or talk to it”.

The Fisheye Project is also looking at specific developments to the system for:

  • Seabird mitigation – seabirds can be an unwanted bycatch that threaten rare species. The camera system is to assure methods in place are mitigating the catch.
  • Snapper – monitoring undersized snapper that are being returned
  • Better real time information that will allow more timely decisions in times of stock fluctuations.

They’re continuing to work on improving the hardware and software with a grant from Callaghan Innovation. This will include:

  • Video analytics capabilities for the ‘retrieval process’ (i.e retrival of pertinent footage for manual review). This recognizes the ‘action moments’ for manual review – as opposed to the many hours where ‘nothing is happening’.
  • Video analytics for stock assessment – so developing a recognition of species – size, length and quantity – to assess core species for quotas – such software will work on preset calibrations for different areas/species.
  • Video analytics that can differentiate a seabird from a fish
  • Video analytics that track gear as it moves around the deck
  • Data storage and movement – working out the best way to get the vast amounts of data produced by 24-7 video monitoring from the boats to the shore, and then how to store that. This is no small undertaking with a data storage company suggesting that they may end up with the biggest storage facilities in the country. Presently they are trialling servers located at ports that receive the data, via wifi, for processing and review.
  • The camera system needs to operate in an extreme enviroment with a vast range of temperatures. Already they’ve created a stainless steel housing to deal with the marine environment. Presently Chris is experimenting with inert gas (argon) within the camera housing to remove moisture issue variablities

Darren say’s “There’s not an area in fisheries management that can’t be improved by this system. You can look at historic data and run new algorithms over it.”   Both men speak of “what they don’t know yet” – Chris says a lot of the research isn’t based on pre-conceived hypotheses but the ‘throw mud at the wall and see what sticks”, or in fishing speak “a fish on the hook is worth 2 at sea”.

The company won the Most Innovative Hi-Tech Agritech Product award at the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards in May 2015, and the People’s Choice award at the 2014 Innovators’ Awards. In November 2015, SnapIT won the Yealands Family Wines Restorative Innovation Award at the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards.

The judges said that, “Providing an electronic monitoring system for fishing vessels, the system camera records and displays a 360 degree, blind spot free, image. SnapIT is helping to create a global sustainable fishery by developing systems that bring together the needs of fishing companies, communities and governments.”

“Wild fish are the last source of wild food available in the world and if we don’t look after them sustainably they will be gone.” SnapIT CEO Chris Rodley says.