Thursday, October 6, 2016

How new tech is catching IUU fishing in small-boat fisheries

This week Melissa Garren, chief scientific officer of the Pelagic Data Systems and Anne Hawkins of the Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, talk about a new technology against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and actor Leonardo Di Caprio unveiled Global Fishing Watch at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. As its big-name spokesmen would suggest, Global Fishing Watch is a big deal. Created by Google, Oceana, and SkyTruth, it uses satellite data to track and make public the fishing activity of the world’s largest fishing vessels. This enables public oversight and pressures vessel operators to fish legally.

Global Fishing Watch is a huge step in the fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, and there also remains much work to be done. Right now, it’s still possible for vessel operators to turn off their satellite tracking devices, and there are many smaller vessels that have no tracking capability at all due to the expense and power requirements of most systems. This poses a significant challenge because ~95 percent of the world’s fishing fleet is comprised of these small vessels.

At Pelagic Data Systems, we developed an autonomous, tamper-proof Vessel Tracking System (VTS) with these small vessels in mind. Our VTS is a solar-powered device, roughly the size and shape of a smartphone, that collects, encrypts, and securely transmits data on a boat’s location, and it can monitor storage temperature and catch methods. By filling in the data gap for small-scale fisheries, this technology complements efforts already under way to rid the world of IUU fishing.


Pelagic Data Systems recently teamed up with Global Fishing Watch and industry partner PT Bali Seafood International (BSI) to begin putting that data on the public map of global fishing. The project is collecting data on small fishing vessels in Indonesia that feed into BSI’s international supply chain, and this data will be made public online through Global Fishing Watch. Projects like this one are wins for traceability, sustainability, and for the fishing industry’s bottom line. Consumers are increasingly demanding seafood caught transparently and through a sustainable supply chain, and companies like BSI are paving the way.

Our vessel tracking systems also provide valuable information for use in marine spatial planning. As Anne Hawkins and I presented at the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) Annual Science Conference last week, this data collected by the fishing industry can help to preserve their access to valuable fishing grounds and inform decisions on how new projects in the marine environment are sited. By providing fishing communities with the data-oriented tools to get involved in this process, we empower them to help manage the resources that support their livelihoods.

Ultimately, the more ways we can monitor the world’s fishing fleet, the faster we can eradicate IUU fishing and guarantee that fishing resources relied on by billions of people around the globe are sustainably managed.

by Melissa Garren and Anne Hawkins 

Melissa is a marine biologist who specializes in the intersection of technology and marine conservation. At Pelagic Data Systems, she is responsible for providing scientific leadership and aligning the company's technology development programs with the needs of both the ecosystems and the communities dependent on them.  She holds a B.S. from Yale University, and M.S. and Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and completed postdoctoral work at MIT in the application of cutting-edge technologies to marine conservation solutions.


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