WorldFish nets big wins in big data competition

Two innovative WorldFish-led projects are to receive a total of USD$225,000 from the CGIAR Platform on Big Data in Agriculture.

One, led by Dr. Jerome Delamare-Deboutteville, will receive an Inspire Challenge award worth USD$100,000 to test a new concept for rapid diagnosis of fish diseases, while another, led by Dr. Alex Tilley, will receive USD$125,000 to help expand a novel approach to monitoring small-scale fisheries.

The awards were announced last Friday, as part of the Big Data Convention, in Hyderabad, India.

“We’re absolutely over the moon,” said Delamare-Deboutteville following the announcement. “We’re really excited about this opportunity to transform our proposal from a great idea into a great tool that can really make a difference for fish farmers, scientists and policymakers around the world. We are extremely grateful to the CGIAR Platform on Big Data in Agriculture for supporting this work.”

Delamare-Deboutteville’s team includes the University of Queensland, and biomonitoring analytics firm Wilderlab, from New Zealand, as partners. The proposed approach brings together years of fish pathogen data and combines it with new pathogen DNA sequences from infected fish. Processed using specially-designed software and machine learning tools, the data will feed a Cloud-based service that can be used to accurately diagnose a range of fish diseases. Management advice then will be sent back to farmers, extension workers, hatcheries and quarantine officers in near-real time, in a user-friendly format via a smartphone. The team expects the approach will reduce the need for antibiotic treatments and ensure the right treatments are used where necessary; reduce the risk of the subsequent production cycles of fish being infected; and prevent the spread of disease between farms. In addition, the system will provide scientists with useful information for vaccine development. If successful, the approach also could be used to rapidly and accurately detect and manage diseases in all farmed animals.

The second project, led by Tilley in collaboration with San Francisco-based Pelagic Data Systems and Wilderlab, centers on generating much-needed data on small-scale fisheries by combining digital catch monitoring and high resolution tracking of small vessels. It has already been hailed as a success in Timor Leste, where it was piloted after receiving an Inspire Challenge award worth USD$100,000 in 2018. The project installed over 350 devices on vessels in different parts of the country, and developed an online dashboard showing analyzed catch trends and fishing areas in near-real-time. It helped generate a detailed picture of small-scale fishing in the country and has been adopted by the Timorese government as its official fisheries monitoring system. It was selected as runner-up in this year’s Inspire Challenge Scale Up awards, meaning it will receive an additional USD$125,000 to expand the work to seven more countries in Asia and Africa, covering different fish production systems.

“This is great news for all of us on the team, and can potentially lead to a significantly better understanding of fisheries dynamics around the world,” said Tilley, following the award ceremony. “As they say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and our system helps generate the kind of data needed to support sustainable, small-scale fish supply in a range of contexts. I’m delighted that the panel chose to help scale up our work and look forward to taking the approach to new countries.”

Gareth Johnstone, Director General, WorldFish, who spoke on the Leadership in Data for Agriculture panel at the Big Data Convention, said: “This is great news for WorldFish scientists and their partners working to bring the power of big data to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. I believe that WorldFish should digitalize everything it does, and projects like these take advantage of the enormous opportunities for innovation in the digital domain. I look forward to seeing the results!”