At restaurants and dinner tables around the world, seafood is often the entrée of choice. Fish, crustacean, and mollusk consumption account for about 17 percent of the world’s total animal protein intake, with much of this coming from the ocean. Fish and shellfish are especially important in low-income areas where total protein intake is low and diets are less diversified.

Fishing companies—businesses that catch fish or other seafood in the wild—will play a major role in sustaining food security and supporting fishing communities. But in their quest to capture enough fish to satisfy soaring demand, they are exerting unprecedented pressure on marine and freshwater ecosystems. It now takes five times the effort (in kilowatt-hours) to catch the same amount of fish as it did in 1950, because the targeted species are now in scarce supply. This shortage not only jeopardizes commercial prospects for fishing companies but also greatly threatens the ability of endangered ocean species to reproduce and maintain their numbers.

Balancing fishery interests with environmental concerns is not easy, but advanced analytics (AA)—the use of sophisticated methods to collect, process, and interpret big data—might represent an untapped solution to this problem. While fishing companies, regulators, and environmentalists now apply these tools, their use is typically limited to small-scale pilots. But we may have reached the point where advanced analytics will take off within the fishing sector. In addition to the development of new technologies that support analytics in this field, both policy makers and fishing-company leaders have an increased sense of urgency because of dwindling fish stocks. Further, people entering the fishing industry or participating in regulatory development are more tech savvy than their predecessors, giving them a greater understanding of advanced analytics and other digital tools. Even fishermen from emerging markets can access information on these technologies—and their benefits—through a simple smartphone search.

The growth of advanced analytics could promote the development of precision fishing—the use of advanced tools and technologies to optimize fishing operations and management. If large-scale fishing companies around the world move to this model, they could decrease their annual operating costs by about $11 billion, and customers would benefit from lower prices for fish and seafood. Precision-fishing techniques can also contribute to improved management of ocean resources, which could increase industry profits by as much as $53 billion by 2050 while simultaneously raising the total fish biomass to at least twice the current level.

This article attempts to paint a picture of the current situation in the fishing industry, focusing on the challenges that are making it more urgent to adapt advanced analytics and associated tools. It also discusses several of the most popular use cases that have emerged for advanced analytics, as well as others that show great potential. Finally, the article provides a practical guide to next steps for all industry stakeholders.

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