Illegal fishing is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after weapons trafficking and drug smuggling.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia has developed a web-based reporting tool that identifies and ranks vessels across the globe, based on a list of behaviours associated with illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
The tool uses data collected by satellites to monitor and report suspiciously behaving vessels. It looks for indicators based on the vessel's history, movement and whether its transmitter has been intentionally disabled and alerts authorities when offending vessels arrive in port.
Countries will be able to sign-up to receive notifications, or directly access the portal to search for vessels. They will be provided with a report which highlights the suspicious behaviours involved because of which the vessel was flagged.
CSIRO senior scientist and co-designer of the platform, Dr. Chris Wilcox says in a video attached to the press release, “There are tens of thousands of fishing vessels, even if you only think about the really big ones around the world and hundreds of thousands of little ones. And so, deciding which vessels to look at, where to send the Maritime Police or Fisheries Inspectors as all these vessels are bringing their catch into port is a really difficult problem. What we developed was an automated system that basically takes all the data that’s available to Fisheries Managers and sifts through it to look through patterns.”
The press release from CSIRO states that iIlegal fishing is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after weapons trafficking and drug smuggling. An estimated 26M tons of illegal fish are caught each year (around one-third of fish in US and Australian markets appears to be illegal.), worth approximately US $23 billion.
The issue is particularly problematic in the developing world where low capacity and funding make it difficult to fight. IUU fishing leads to overfishing and depletion of stocks which has the greatest impact on developing countries whose people rely on fish as their primary source of protein and income.
The first international treaty aimed at stopping IUU fishing went into force in May 2017, coordinated by the United National Food and Agriculture Organisation and agreed to by 29 countries.
The CSIRO team led by Dr. Wilcox has also been working closely with the Indonesian government to address the problem. Recently, Indonesia became the first country in the world to share Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data for all Indonesian flagged fishing vessels in a publicly-available data platform.
The platform will be officially launched in October and is anticipated by a number of national and international surveillance agencies, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation funded Global Fishing Watch.
The project is part of a collaboration with Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and his U.S.-based company, Vulcan Inc.
Featured image: Allen Shimada, NOAA NMFS OST
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