Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Using technology to hook
fishing cheats worldwide

Technology could help nations process the vast amounts of data involved in monitoring their waters, but cooperation is necessary to utilize the findings

By Thin Lei Win  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, ROME

Illustration: Yusha

In 2016, a Thai-flagged fishing vessel was detained in the Seychelles on suspicion that it had been fishing illegally in the Indian Ocean, one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

The Jin Shyang Yih 668 was caught with help from technology deployed by FISH-i Africa, a grouping of eight east African nations, including Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya.

However, as the vessel headed to Thailand, which pledged to investigate and prosecute the case, it turned off its tracking equipment and disappeared. Its whereabouts remain unknown.

Such activity is rampant in the fishing industry, experts say, where illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to cost US$23.5 billion a year.

However, a range of non-profit and for-profit organizations that are developing technological solutions to tackle IUU say it is a matter of time before vessels can no longer vanish.

“The industry is developing very fast... Basically the oceans will be fully traceable. There is no place to hide,” said Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, cofounder of Madrid-based FishSpektrum, one of the few for-profit platforms.


With backing from Google, Microsoft’s Paul Allen and Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, among others, such platforms also track fishing on the high seas and in marine reserves, aided by radio and satellite data that send vessels’ locations and movements.

They use satellite imagery, drones, algorithms and the ability to process vast amounts of data, as well as old-fashioned sleuthing and analysis, to help nations control their waters.

Algorithms could identify illegal behavior, including predicting when a fishing vessel is about to meet its quota, triggering an alarm, Mielgo Bregazzi tsaid.

Technology could help even rich nations, which might otherwise struggle to process the volume of data broadcast by hundreds of thousands of vessels, said Bradley Soule, chief fisheries analyst at the non-profit OceanMind.

Organizations such as his crunch that data and help to differentiate between normal and suspicious activity.

“The bulk of the threat is non-compliance by mainly legal operators who skirt the rules when they think no one’s looking,” said Soule, who helps Costa Rica monitor its waters.

Others go further. Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), a Norway-based non-profit, digs up data on a vessel’s identity, its owners, agents and which company provides the crew. Its approach saw a South Korean ship in 2013 pay a then-record US$1 million fine.


Decades of over-exploitation mean fishing grounds are under strain. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2016 said that nearly a third of commercial stocks were being fished at unsustainable levels.

Dirk Zeller, who heads the Sea Around Us — Indian Ocean project at the University of Western Australia, said that as the ocean’s bounty is a public resource, the world should know who is taking what.

Part of the problem is overcapacity in the global fishing fleet, he said

However, he also pointed to difficulties in calculating IUU’s scale: The FAO’s estimates of fish stocks, for instance, are based on official government data, which are open to under and over-reporting.

His research shows that global catches from 1950 to 2010 were 50 percent higher than countries had said.

All of which goes some way to explaining why the true extent of IUU remains unknown, experts say.

This story has been viewed 7644 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top