The fisheries sector is notorious for dangerous and poor working conditions. New technology could help to resolve some of the problems in the sector, but unfortunately at the moment most of the technology is being used to help locate fish or improve communications between ships, and between ships and shore.
This is a welcome development in cases where fishers are able to use the equipment to communicate with their families more easily, but it does not substantially transform their working conditions.
There are indications of new uses for tech in the sector. In some areas blockchain technology is being used to monitor catches and reduce bycatch, in a few cases it is being used to prevent the use of slave labour. However, mainly the tech is being used to monitor catches, an indication of where the industries’ priorities lie.
Tech could be used to monitor working conditions more effectively, although this effectiveness depends on legislation being applied on shore, particularly against skippers, or owners of vessels, where abuse occurs.
For example; cameras could stream onboard footage to shore based monitoring stations. Electronic sign-in could allow working hours to be monitored more accurately. Biometric chips, or mobile applications, could be used to determine fatigue levels across the crew. Microphones on board could record the way skippers treat crew.
Payments could be made electronically to mobile phones to ensure transparency and prompt payment of wages. All the data could be recorded on a blockchain to ensure that regulations are being applied.
Regular ship inspections could be used to develop rankings for ships, skippers and employers so as to allow fishers some choice around whether to take a job or not. Companies that fail these inspections regularly could be fined or face other penalties.
And of course, communication technology could be used to ensure that crew can communicate regularly with their families, and unions.
However, without national governments willing to apply labour laws, or enforce these uses of technology, the incentive for ship owners and skippers will always be to push down the cost of labour. This indicates that an international approach is needed to resolve many of the systemic problems in the sector.