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

The best IUU study came out in 2009, said Miren Gutierrez, research associate at London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

That study, which experts rate as the most reliable, came up with the US$23.5 billion figure.

In a bid to update that, the FAO is developing guidelines to help nations estimate IUU fishing in their waters. It is also working with non-profit Global Fishing Watch (GFW) — which runs a free-to-access platform that uses automatic identification system data to track the global movement of vessels — on a report scheduled for July to estimate how much fishing is taking place.

GFW chief executive Tony Long, a British navy veteran, said transparency would drive better behavior, as “those people who choose not to be compliant stand out more.”


However, there is still much to do: To date, governments and multilaterals have “failed to produce a single, effective, public global fisheries information tool,” an ODI report on technology platforms said.

Report coauthor Alfonso Daniels said a database of vessels known to be involved in IUU fishing would help.

TMT has tried to fill this gap. It last month launched a Web site with up-to-date details of nearly 300 vessels accused by nine regional fisheries management organizations of being involved in IUU fishing.

However, that is a drop in the ocean. The FAO estimates that 4.6 million fishing vessels are out there, the ODI report said, yet its database listed just 5 percent of them as of 2015.

The FAO is looking to improve on that. It last year launched an online database of vessels that, although currently open only to member states, is to be publicly accessible later this year.

However, for all the promise technology brings, it cannot provide a complete picture, TMT chief analyst Duncan Copeland said.

“You need a combination of other information sources, like working with neighboring countries,” he added.

FAO senior fishery officer Matthew Camilleri agreed that technology is no silver bullet.

“What use is it if you’re able to detect IUU fishing and find the vessel with illegal fish on board, but you do not have the process in place to enforce, to prosecute?” he said.

Progress is under way toward that in the form of the FAO’s 2009 Port State Measures Agreement, which is aimed at curbing IUU fishing. Nearly half of the 194 UN member states have signed it, including four of the top five fishing nations — Indonesia, the US, Russia and Japan.

China has not. It is the world’s largest fishing nation, whose 2014 catch of 13.4 million tonnes was as much as the next three nations combined, the FAO’s 2016 State of the World’s Fisheries report showed.

When asked whether it was likely to sign, China’s mission to the FAO in Rome told reporters that it was not authorized to comment.

Long said combining technology with cooperation between nations could close the loopholes.

“We are in a very imperfect situation, so the more countries that ratify tools like the Port State Measures Agreement and mandate the use of tracking systems ... and go transparent, the better,” he said.

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