Satellites: Technology takes on illegal fishing

Satellite mapping technology is being used to identify illicit fishing practices and help enforce tighter regulations to protect global fish stocks. Global Fishing Watch is a free online platform which allows people to track the movements of fishing vessels and detect any suspicious activity.

The blue line represents the satellite-tracked movements of the Central Pacific Fishing Company’s vessel, which clearly enters the Phoenix Islands Protected Area indicated by the red box. © Global Fishing Watch

Vital new technologies and initiatives to help identify illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices are being supported by international organisations and policymakers to facilitate the application of tighter regulations against corruption within the industry. The launch of Global Fishing Watch, the first free online platform for tracking the activity of over 35,000 fishing vessels, in September 2016, signalled a significant step towards tighter control and increased transparency of fishing practices.

IUU fishing activities amount to annual costs of €9-22 billion worldwide; €1.2 billion is lost from West Africa’s shores alone. Not only do these figures represent substantial financial losses, but they also indicate an unsustainable depletion in global fish stocks and a threat to the livelihoods of over 500 million people who work in the fishing industry.

Global Fishing Watch, founded by SkyTruth, Oceana and Google, allows anyone with internet access to monitor commercial fishing activities and identify suspicious behaviour. The site uses data collected by the Automatic Identification System (AIS). Originally designed for navigational purposes, AIS transmits information from vessel transponders to satellite and terrestrial receivers. The data provides a global feed of vessel locations, which Global Fishing Watch uses to classify ‘fishing’ activity and update its map tracking vessel movement.  

David Kroodsma, research program manager at Global Fishing Watch, stated that the technology "is dramatically increasing transparency in the world's fishing industry. What was once far over the horizon and out of sight can now be tracked." The platform enables citizens to hold seafood suppliers, as well as authorities, to account for any failure to uphold sustainable fishing regulations. The simple tool helps law enforcement agencies to aggregate evidence needed to prosecute IUU fishing practices. For example, the Kiribati government used images produced by Global Fishing Watch to track a Marshall Islands fishing vessel’s movements inside Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area, forcing the Central Pacific Fishing Company to pay €1.8 million in compensation.

Since Africa Progress Panel’s 2014 Grain, Fish, Money report highlighted the rapid depletion of ocean fish stocks caused by IUU fishing, tighter regulation and increased transparency has become top of the policy agenda. In February 2017, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of new regulations to combat IUU fishing outside the EU. The new legislation should deter illegal commercial fishing in African waters, such as off the coast of Somalia where, without EU assistance, the government lacks the resources to effectively police the high-powered industrial trawlers fishing in protected areas.

To ensure effective enforcement of international fishing regulations, the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), a global multi-stakeholder initiative, will launch its framework for transparent governance of the fishing sector on 27 April 2017. Established in 2015 with support from the governments of Guinea, Indonesia, Mauritania, Senegal and the Seychelles, FiTI intends to promote sustainable fishing practices which protect ocean ecosystems and food security.

 

 

Stephanie Lynch

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.