Saving the Atlantic Salmon in Norway
With a natural heritage rich in glacier-carved fjords and sheer mountains overlooked by the stunning northern lights, Norway's beauty is accompanied by an exemplary record of sustainability that ranks it in the top ten of the world's greenest countries on the Environmental Protection Index.
Nevertheless, the Scandinavian nation has not escaped the global pressures of climate change, biodiversity loss, or the effects of human impact on its environment – an impact that has manifested in its system of 500 rivers to the point that intervention is required if the Atlantic salmon is to enjoy longevity. The threat to the third largest species in the Salmonidae family comes in the shape of its cousin, the humpback salmon. Introduced into Russia's White Sea in the 1950s, the new fish on the block – also known as the Pacific pink salmon – soon became an invasive species that began negatively impacting other marine life, as well as land-based species, local economic activity, and quality of life – Norway has a long tradition of salmon fishing and it's an intrinsic part of the nation's culture.
An Invasive Threat
A top-five threat to biodiversity, invasive species are created when a non-native plant, animal, microbe, or other living organism is introduced into an ecosystem, either intentionally or unintentionally. The invaders can wreak havoc on local ecosystems and economies in a variety of ways: collapsing food chains, introducing disease, decimating crops, clogging up waterways, and irreversibly upsetting the balance of nature.
After its introduction to the White Sea, the humpback salmon made its way to Finnmark, where the Norwegian coastline swings east and soon found its way to Norway's south coast.
A humpback salmon
Already on the government's blacklist, the humpback salmon has proliferated to the extent that it could overwhelm the Atlantic salmon and other wild fish. It competes with native species in two ways: food and space for spawning grounds. And it competes well – humpback salmon enjoy the same food as its Atlantic cousins, they're aggressive, and they have high reproductive rates. Due to its 24-month reproductive cycle, the humpback salmon peaks in odd years: 2017 saw a surge in numbers on an unprecedented scale, with sport anglers catching 3,528 of the species. In 2019, that rose to 5,308. In 2021, it soared to over 13,000.
The increased volume of dead and rotting fish depletes oxygen and reduces the life that rivers can support and can result in long-term changes on local ecosystem for example, attracting scavengers and vermin that feed on the spawning and dying fish, including mink, otters, foxes, and birds.
As well as the increasing threat to biological diversity, the invader also brings non-native diseases that threaten both wild fish and farmed fish stocks. Escaped farmed salmon also add to the threat, competing with their wild cousins and adding pressure to already dwindling wild stocks. And as they're less genetically diverse than wild fish, they weaken the genome of the species after interbreeding.
Fishing for a Smart Solution
The current methods used to protect the Atlantic salmon stock in the Norwegian rivers are labor-intensive and largely rely on volunteer work, making it hard to monitor and quantify the threat. Only fish that can be seen can be counted, many are missed, and their sex is impossible to determine.
Now, technology has an answer in the shape of a real-time underwater monitoring and filter system using video and AI technology – a system that could cut manual labor by up to 90%. Launched in July 2021, the pilot project is running in the Norwegian fishing village of Berlevåg and will be implemented in two phases over 2021 and 2022. Phase one will monitor and count different fish species and phase two will deploy a filtering system that automatically prevents the humpback salmon from swimming upstream.
Footage captured by the camera trap
The data can reveal accurate patterns of migration behaviors, record different types of fish, provide detailed data for further study, and help reinforce efforts to prevent overfishing.
The Atlantic salmon pilot project is the result of a partnership between Silo AI, the largest private AI lab in the Nordic region; Berlevag JFF, an association of hunters and anglers that plays a key role in local conservation; and Huawei Norway.
Monitoring technology to study and stop threats to plant and wildlife is already making a difference throughout the world. With a partnership that brings together tech experts, local knowledge, and cutting-edge, tailor-made solutions, expectations are high that this will be the case in Norway.