Alas! The world’s fish stocks are running out! People know this. However, less well known are the reasons behind this – illegal fishing, which takes place in protected areas, in another country’s waters or on the high seas.
It’s not only an issue that threatens the world’s fish population, but also destroys marine ecosystems, undermines responsible management, and weakens the livelihoods of coastal fisherman and communities, especially in the developing countries where people don’t have the capacity to enforce fishery management rules or the resources for effective monitoring, control, and surveillance. Illegal fishing is also associated with slave labor and other human rights issues as well as with drug and arms smuggling.
The problem is that illegal fishing is hidden. It mostly happens in the high seas making it difficult to locate or monitor individual vessels. To address the issue, we need to know what’s happening beyond the horizon.
Thankfully, we are now beginning to monitor the commercial fishing vessels. Global Fishing Watch (GFW), a website to provide the world’s view of commercial fishing activities was launched in September 2016 by Google in collaboration with the non-profit groups, Oceana and SkyTruth. The site enables data tracking from existing monitoring systems and analyzing the movement patterns of vessels to identify the ones that are fishing. At any moment, 200,000 vessels publicize their whereabouts via the Automated Identification System (AIS) – an automatic tracking system used on ships or vessels.
According to a recent news, a new data gathered by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) brought forth a real-time map, showing the whereabouts and identity of vessels operating at night in waters that lie beyond a nation’s administration.
The new map is an interesting technology that exposes fleets of fishing vessels that were previously left unmonitored on the ocean, leading to the elimination of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.
Introduced in June 2018, the map makes use of NOAA’s visible infrared imaging radiometer suite to monitor vessels that are unarmed with transponders and larger ones that have switched off their tracking systems to avoid detection.
Implemented by GFW and Oceana, the monitoring already revealed that nearly 20% of Chinese vessels are not broadcasting through automatic tracking systems, raising suspicions that they are operating illegally.
The report on the high seas mapping system coincides with the release by GFW of the very first real-time view of transshipment, which allows fishing boats to transfer their catch to refrigerated cargo vessels and remain at sea for months or years, and still get their catch to the market.
“By harnessing big data and artificial intelligence, we’re able to generate a clearer view into the often-shady practice of transshipment. This data is now freely available to governments, NGOs and academia to use and interrogate, and support global efforts to strengthen monitoring and enforcement to eradicate illegal fishing,” said Paul Woods, chief technology officer at GFW.
At present, the countries such as China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea account for more than two-thirds of fish caught in the open ocean.