Fishermen in Colombia will be able to tap into the latest satellite information to chase shoals of fish in their depleted fishing grounds.
Using satellites from NASA — the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration — and the European Space Agency, researchers from the National University of Colombia identified chlorophyll hotspots, which indicate the presence of the phytoplankton that some fish feed on, and a range of surface temperatures .
The technology allows researchers to find and study promising fishing areas, but it may also help fishermen to spend less time and money looking for fish.
Fisherman caught 40 per cent more fish in initial trials, according to the researchers.
'We are not the first to use this methodology', John J. Selvaraj, lead researcher based at the Palmira branch of the National University of Colombia, told SciDev.Net. Chile, India and Japan have used similar technologies.
'In our case, we are identifying those areas in the ocean where two masses of water with different chemical and physical characteristics meet [known as thermal fronts], allowing us to predict areas rich in fish.'
This technology may be useful both for fishing and for conservation, Selvaraj said.
The researchers are organising free workshops and teaching fishermen to read the satellite maps.
They are also looking for funding to design websites with maps that are updated daily, since these productive areas may stay in one spot for only a few weeks, said Ángela I. Guzmán, a co-author of the study and biologist at the University of Colombia.
But Leonor Botero, a marine biologist and research director at Sabana University, Colombia, said that uncontrolled commercial fishing has caused a quick decline in fish populations worldwide.
'Applying technologies for reaching areas with big concentrations of fish to increase the catch could, in the long run, worsen the situation,' she told SciDev.Net. 'It is necessary to take into account breeding periods and the life cycle of each species and to allow populations to recover.'
'The development and use of sophisticated technologies to detect fish banks should be accompanied by rigorous research and monitoring of the populations that are fished in order to avoid exhaustion,' she said.