Oceans and AI: From sea to table

This is a photo of A plate of sardines, potatoes, and salad at Restaurante Adega de Sao Roque in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

A plate of sardines, potatoes, and salad at Restaurante Adega de Sao Roque in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

This article is the fifth in a five-part series: Oceans and AI, which explores the practical application of technology to address threats to our planet’s seas and fish.

Most fishers, marketers, and consumers know all too well that seafood is highly perishable. Once pulled from the ocean, it’s very difficult to control the look, texture, and overall quality of fish and shellfish. Harvest methods, amount of processing, and distance from sea to table are just some of the factors that determine shelf life. In fact, the amount of fish that is eaten in the world equals the amount that is thrown away.

After wild fish are caught, they typically travel great distances from fishing ground to processing facility. Onboard storage temperature during this journey plays a big role in preventing deterioration of the fish meat. Even with low storage temperatures helping to slow down the decomposition of seafood, there’s the constant threat of microorganisms inside the product.

Another threat is air — namely, carbon dioxide, which can negatively affect product quality and alter the taste and texture of the fish we bite into. Back in the 1930s, researchers created modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which, despite mixed results, is still widely used for minimally processed fishery products. The technique retards microbial growth and enzymatic spoilage by removing oxygen from the air within a package and replacing it with a variety of other gases. Food technologists continue to refine MAP and struggle with the complexity of these food spoilage challenges.

This photo shows A plastic food tray of prime Maldives-sourced yellowfin tuna steaks makes its journey along a conveyor belt at New England seafood suppliers in Chessington, London England. Driven along by a blue chain it will next be sealed before shipment. Flown by air freight from the Maldives where it has been traditionally line caught in the Indian Ocean, this fish is bound for the UK's main supermarkets. New England Seafood is a major supplier of fresh and frozen premium sustainable fish and seafood in the UK and one of the largest importers of fresh tuna. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

A plastic food tray of prime Maldives-sourced yellowfin tuna steaks makes its journey along a conveyor belt at New England seafood suppliers in Chessington, London England. Driven along by a blue chain it will next be sealed before shipment. Flown by air freight from the Maldives where it has been traditionally line caught in the Indian Ocean, this fish is bound for the UK’s main supermarkets. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

To help understand and address the problem of spoilage, a group of students from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) proposed a new spin on the most common way of checking freshness: the sniff test. Working with SmellDect, a German company specializing in sensors, the students developed Fishent. The product is an extremely sensitive electronic nose that performs the equivalent of a sniff test on fish, and relies on machine learning to detect and interpret a range of odors that indicate shelf life. (E-nose technology has been used successfully in such applications as food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and environmental disciplines.)

With shelf life dates accurately posted, consumers are more likely to eat seafood that has been protected from spoiling, and thus avoid having to throw it away. The team has successfully tested early versions of this product in Denmark.

This photo shows The Fishent prototype, which measures fish shelf life with electronic nose technology. (Image credit: FIshent)

The Fishent prototype, which measures fish shelf life with electronic nose technology. (Image credit: Fishent)

Emerging technologies like Fishent — which relies on biosensors alongside AI and machine learning—offer hope in reversing the awful problem of wasted fish. They promise to help get fish to market—and your table, fresher and with less waste.