The European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) stands as a testament to the commitment toward sustainable management of marine resources. Yet, recent strides in policy, notably the EU Green Deal and the forthcoming revised EU Fisheries Control Regulation, underscore a crucial necessity of the swift digitalisation of EU small-scale fisheries (SSF). The European Green Deal strengthened the CFP approach, emphasizing the triple contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to the economy and employment of coastal regions, food security in the EU, and the protection of the marine environment.

The Fish-X Project envisions a sustainable future for SSF, guided by the principles of the CFP and bolstered by the European Green Deal. Fish-X aims to ensure long-term viability for SSF, safeguarding food supplies, fostering equitable living standards for coastal communities, and preserving the socio-economic fabric.

The European Council‘s adoption of the revision of the EU‘s Fisheries Control Regulation signals a pivotal moment. The aim is to ensure that EU fisheries control and monitoring systems remain at the forefront of technological advancements, revolutionising the way fishing activities are managed.

This digital transformation of SSF undergoes adoption and implementation of digital technology to create new or modified existing tools, services, and operations that will lead to big data for better analysis and decision making. There are following two pivotal changes set to redefine the landscape:

Mandatory Vessel Tracking:

Every EU fishing vessel, including those in the SSF sector, will soon be mandated to install tracking devices. These devices promise real-time vessel location and identification, heralding a new era of transparency and regulatory compliance.

Obligatory E-Logbooks:

Electronic logbooks are set to become the new norm for all EU fishing vessels. This digital leap forward streamlines data collection processes, enhancing accuracy while paving the way for more efficient management practices.

Fish-X Project

Supporting and facilitating the implementation of these regulations, the 3-year Fish-X Project has successfully completed its first 18 months in November 2023 and entered the second half of the project. This project is co-funded by the European Horizon Programme and is an ambitious endeavour recognizing the indispensable role of SSF in the EU‘s fishing industry. With a focus on leveraging technology for sustainable fisheries management, Fish-X is developing three groundbreaking solutions tailored to the needs of SSF:

Fish-X Data Space:

This secure platform will act as the nerve centre for data exchange, fostering collaboration and transparency across the sector. Stakeholders, from fishers to policymakers, will be able to gain access to a wealth of accurate and readily available data, empowering informed decision-making. As data producers, fishers keep control of the data they want to propose.

Insight Platform:

Harnessing the power of data analysis, this platform aims to offer invaluable insights into fishing activities, resource abundance, and environmental conditions. Insight illustrates how the data space could be a data management tool used to share data collected and produced by fishers to feed several new applications in support to sustainable management, fishing effort statistics, or facilitating seafood traceability and promotion.

Traceability Application:

Building consumer trust in the seafood supply chain, this application aims to ensure complete transparency from catch to consumer. It will also enable consumers to gain access to detailed information about the sustainability and journey of their seafood choices. It will also foster and promote ethical consumption and supporting responsible fishing practices.

The progress made by the Fish-X Project in its first 18 months has been overall on track. The project remains steadfast in its mission. Key milestones achieved include the establishment of a robust project structure, extensive stakeholder consultation, kick-off implementation of use cases, roadmap advances to the next stage from preliminary version, and the development of digital tools.

Let‘s delve into the progress achieved across various activities being carried out under the project.

Stakeholder Engagement is a continuous process of consultation with diverse fisheries stakeholders ensued. From representatives of fisheries management and marine science institutions to small-scale fishers‘ groups and technology providers, the project ensured robust engagement. Notable outputs are the preparation of the Preliminary Fisheries Roadmap, the publication of a white paper, as well as the analysis of the fisheries context through a series of webinars, working group meetings, high-level events, and conferences.

Building the Data Space is focused on laying the groundwork for the development of the Fish-X Data Space. Based on Gaia-X federated services, the objective is to facilitate data sharing while safeguarding owners‘ sovereignty. Key achievements include identifying relevant data types, defining the data space architecture, and establishing data exchange procedures.

Development of Insight Platform is led by CLS. It focuses on developing and operating the Insight web portal. This platform showcases the utilisation of fisheries datasets for a broader audience under the control of the Fish-X Data Space. Preliminary results to date include the production of a detailed Insight functional specification and the testing of artificial intelligence tools for fishing gear detection.

Practical Use Cases were initiated, and substantial efforts were directed towards running practical use cases in different coastal regions with participation of volunteer fishers. Successful installations of Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) devices on SSF vessels in Portugal and Croatia paved the way for data collection essential for the development of the Fish-X Data Space and Insight Platform.

Traceability Platform Framework relates to building upon insights gained from the practical use case in the Baltic Region, it began laying the groundwork for the Traceability Platform. Additionally, the basic version of the Traceability Application for consumers was developed as part of this package.

Fish-X in the field: Ongoing demonstrations with fishers

Mediterranean Use Case

The Mediterranean use case, led by WWF Adria, began in July 2023 along the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It integrates NEMO vessel tracking units, and NAOS, fishing gear satellites tracking units e-gear devices, designed to fit in small-scale fishing vessels. These devices collect data in the Fisheries Restricted Area (FRA) of the Velebit channel. With NEMO devices currently active and plans to activate NAOS devices, the use case aims to engage fishers through stakeholder consultations, conferences, and collaborative sessions supported by local Fisheries local action group representatives (FLAGs). The project promotes inclusivity by offering open access to data via the FishWeb platform. Despite initial resistance, small-scale fishers are embracing data transparency and evolving technologies. Ongoing feedback and device installations are priorities for ensuring continuous support as fishers navigate these changes.

Baltic Use Case

The Baltic Use Case within the Fish-X project focuses solely on co-developing the Traceability Platform for the SSF sector in the Baltic region. Led by OURZ GmbH with support from TMT, the aim is to implement the platform through collaboration with industry stakeholders. Despite challenges like depleted fish stocks and workforce decline, OURZ has formed partnerships across the seafood supply chain to identify specific needs and tailor the platform accordingly. Currently in the analysis phase, the use case will continuously engage with partners to ensure the final solution meets the unique demands of the SSF sector.

Atlantic Use Case

The Atlantic use case, launched in summer 2023 along Portugal’s South coast, aims to digitalise fisheries through NEMO device installations in small-scale fishing vessels. Led by Sciaena and ANP|WWF Portugal, the project has installed NEMO devices across three fishing associations, with more fishers expressing interest. Preliminary consultations and training sessions have been conducted to support fishers, with future tasks including further device installations and ongoing training to facilitate the transition to digital fisheries management.

Fish-X Driving Sustainable Transformation in EU Fisheries

The Fish-X project, spearheading the digital transition of SSF within the EU, is a multifaceted endeavour aimed at addressing pressing challenges such as Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, promoting sustainable resource management, ensuring fair economic returns for fishers, and fostering collaborative relationships across the fisheries supply chain. Through a series of strategic initiatives, Fish-X is actively engaging stakeholders and driving towards these larger objectives.

Amidst regular webinars and working group meetings, at the heart of Fish-X efforts lies the inaugural white paper, titled ‘‘The Digital Transition of SmallScale Fisheries in the European Union.‘‘ This foundational document addresses key recommendations for navigating the complexities of implementing the revised Fisheries Control Regulation. By advocating for helping more SSF and fish populations benefitting from digital transition. The white paper sets the stage for constructive discussions among stakeholders for mandatory vessel monitoring systems and enhanced digital traceability of catches that can well implemented across the EU basins on community level. Culminating from the discussions at the inaugural conference in Brussels in September 2023, this document not only sheds light on critical issues but also serves as a catalyst for collaboration, fostering a shared understanding of the importance of digitalisation in achieving sustainable fisheries management.

The white paper delineated five essential pillars for propelling digital advancement in EU SSF: fostering trust with fishers, amplifying scientific insights through digital data gathering, championing inclusive management practices that involve fishers, ensuring seamless data interoperability, and establishing standardised collaboration formats. These recommendations are geared towards fostering innovation, transparency, and sustainability within the industry.

 In tandem with the white paper, Fish-X hosted an interactive workshop, titled ‘‘Basics of Digital Transformation,‘‘ which brought together maritime authorities and representatives from the fishing industry. The workshop prepared the ground for a series of further capacity development measures, as participants gained firsthand insights into the benefits of Fish-X digital solutions, including improved data sharing and traceability. By soliciting feedback and promoting collaboration on digital solutions, Fish-X cultivates a culture of engagement and cooperation essential for driving meaningful change in the SSF.

Furthermore, Fish-X also unveiled a preliminary EU Fisheries Roadmap for Digitalisation that charts the course for the digital transformation of EU fisheries up to 2030. Developed through extensive collaboration and informed by insights from stakeholders, this roadmap aligns with the EU Green Deal objectives and the Farm-toFork Strategy. It delineates key action areas, including governance and policy, data collection and traceability frameworks, digital infrastructure, and skill development. By providing a clear roadmap for stakeholders, Fish-X empowers them to navigate regulatory landscapes and embrace sustainable management practices effectively.

Building upon the preliminary version, the roadmap has entered the next phase. Together with partners and LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe), the 1st round interview list has been carefully selected and prepared, marking a significant milestone in the commencement of the interview process and the invitation for Expressions of Interest (EoI). This signals an exciting phase as potential candidates are actively engaged in the process. Additionally, proactive steps have also been taken to ensure that the evaluation process is comprehensive and inclusive. An online survey has been prepared, finely tailored to gather insights and feedback from candidates of four different backgrounds, ensuring that their voices are heard, and their experiences are valued.

Way Forward

Through its innovative deliverables, including webinars, conferences, and digital solutions tailored to prepare the SSF industry for sustainable management, Fish-X promotes transparency, regulatory compliance, and sustainability throughout the seafood supply chain. By fostering stakeholder engagement and awareness, Fish-X contributes to the broader goals of combating IUU fishing, promoting fair economic returns, and advancing the digital transition of EU fisheries. As the project continues to evolve, it remains committed to leading the charge towards a more sustainable future for EU fishers through ongoing collaboration, innovation, and stakeholder empowerment.

As we look towards the future, the Fish-X Project stands on the cusp of further breakthroughs. With a dynamic array of events and engagements on the horizon – ranging from workshops to conferences and high-level discussions – the project is primed to continue its leadership in advancing a more sustainable future for EU SSF. Particular significance is the imminent delivery of the operational Insight platform and dataspace by the close of 2024, a milestone set to transform how data is managed and utilised within the industry.

In a contemporary landscape where digital innovation converges with environmental stewardship, the digital tools developed by Fish-X assume a crucial role in fostering sustainable fisheries. As the project progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that Fish-X is dedicated to propelling EU fishers into a transformative journey. Their ongoing commitment ensures that the project remains at the forefront of sustainable practices, positioning EU SSF for long-term success and resilience in the face of evolving challenges.

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