Hackers from around the world will battle it out to help fill crucial gaps in what we know about the state of world fisheries.

From 22 to 24 April, a 2,000-strong army of coders will gather in 43 host cities across six continents for the third annual Fishackathon.

WWF, together with Young’s Seafood, Welsh ecological consultancy Salacia-Marine and the US-based Billfish Foundation have set a problem for the hackers to solve.

We’ve asked them to come up with a technology which allows fishermen to reliably gather key data on fish length and species from images taken by on-board cameras. These data are critical for assessing the health of fish stocks.

If the hackers can find a solution, the technology could be applied all over the world, transforming our understanding of the health of fish stocks.

Our challenge is one of nine selected by a global panel of experts. The Fishackathon was established by the US State Department to find ways of overcoming the big technical hurdles facing sustainable fishing.

The winners will be selected by a panel of judges and announced on 8 June – World Oceans Day. A total of $10,000 is up for grabs in prizes, and one team’s creation will be further developed independently with investment from the US Government.

Dr Lyndsey Dodds, WWF-UK’s Head of Marine Policy, said:

“Fish are a critical part of the global marine ecosystem. Millions of people around the world depend on fish for their livelihoods and more than three billion of us rely on seafood as a major source of protein.

“In 2015, our Living Blue Planet Report showed that populations of some marine species around the world, including a number of important fish populations, are in decline.

“WWF is working with the fishing industry to help identify solutions to some of the problems faced in achieving sustainable fisheries. By putting this problem forward to the Fishakathon with industry partners, we hope the hackers can help us find a solution that’s not just applicable in the UK but across the world.”

Dr Andy Woolmer, marine scientist and founder of Salacia-Marine, said:

“A fundamental measurement we need is the length of the fish being caught. This gives us an indication of age and, together with data on how many fish are being taken from the water, we can use it to derive a range of other important statistics which can help us manage fisheries more sustainably.

“At the moment this data is available for less than half the global catch. Traditionally we’ve relied on measuring fish by hand at sea, which is time-consuming and expensive.

“If the Fishackathon can come up with a solution to our problem, it has the potential to transform our knowledge of fish stocks around the world.”

David Parker, Marine Biologist and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Young’s Seafood Limited, said:

“As the UK’s leading fish and seafood business, we understand that our planet is precious and that we must respect and help to preserve its natural resources.

“Our Fish for Life sustainability programme is the way we seek to improve our impact in everything we do and we’re pleased to be supporting the Fishackathon by giving a speech and offering Young’s food to those taking part at the London event.

“This innovative event will help to generate new ideas and solutions for assessing the health of fish stocks, which is vitally important to us as we believe in doing the right thing for people and the planet, now and for generations to come.”

The problem we’ve put to the Fishakathon builds on a previous winning solution – Fish-o-tron, which showed it’s possible to make quick and accurate length measurements from images collected by on-board cameras.

At the moment, however, there is no technology that can reliably distinguish between different species of commercial fish. So we’ve asked the hackathon to come up with a piece of tech that can both tell one species from another and provide length measurements of the different species.

The technology could then be used by fishermen to collect scientifically credible data without the need for measuring fish by hand.

The challenge was developed in partnership with fishermen as part of the EU LIFE+ funded Celtic Seas Partnership, a WWF-led project aiming to bring people together to create a more sustainable future for our marine environment.