Called EcoCast, the experimental tool combines satellite data of ocean conditions, records from fisheries observers and species tracking data to pinpoint ideal fishing areas on a daily basis. Resource managers can adjust the weighting of each species as risks change and the fishing season progresses. This helps fishers optimize their harvest of target fish, while reducing the risk of inadvertently catching and killing sensitive species.

The findings, published this week in Science Advances, show that this type of dynamic management tool and approach can be up to 10 times more efficient for protecting species than previous management styles.

EcoCast is leading the way toward more dynamic management of marine resources. We’re putting the information directly in the hands of the fishers and managers,

...said co-author Larry Crowder, the Edward Ricketts Provostial Professor of Marine Ecology and Conservation at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Schematic of the EcoCast process: From fisheries data analysis, to risk prediction, to creating a product map that optimizes catch quality / Credit: Stanford / Drew Briscoe

Fisheries managers currently protect species by creating static areas that fishers must avoid. However, these protected areas don’t reflect the dynamic nature of life in the ocean, where protected fish and other creatures regularly migrate out of the no-fishing zones and into fishers’ nets, Stanford researchers explain.

Fishers will be willing to try this because they’re always looking for ways to do things differently, and better. It’s not going to be perfect, because it’s a prediction, but it is giving us access to information we haven’t had before,

...added Gary Burke, a drift gillnet fisherman in Southern California who collaborated on the research.

In addition, EcoCast informs scientists, resource managers and researchers working with big data to advance more sustainable fisheries practices.

By pioneering a way of evaluating both conservation objectives and economic profitability for sustainable U.S. fisheries, we’re simultaneously advancing both conservation and economic objectives,

...said Elliott Hazen, study lead author and visiting scholar at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The research was funded by NASA, California Sea Grant and NOAA. Rebecca Lewison of San Diego State University is the lead author of the study. Other co-authors are from the University of California, Santa Cruz; University of the Sunshine Coast; Old Dominion University; University of Maryland; and Moss Landing Marine Lab.