Satellite imagery and big data infrastructure offer a more cost-effective way to tighten enforcement against IUU fishing, according to a report released by the UK-based charity, Overseas Development Institute (ODI). There are however problems that hinder efficiency.
Private monitoring initiatives like Global Fishing Watch and FishSpektrum are undermined by limited size and insufficient quality of their datasets, the report finds. One problem is tracking vessel location. Large vessels can be monitored as they are legally required to be fitted with communication equipment known as vessel monitoring systems (VMS) or automatic identification systems (AIS), however smaller fishing boats do not need these to be installed or the systems are simply switched off to avoid surveillance. One of the biggest problems is the absence of a unique global database of fishing vessels. Vessel records are dispersed across national ship registries, licencing bodies, national radio bodies, regional fisheries management organisations, and international organisations. The confusion multiplies as vessels change owners and operators, are reflagged, and are registered with new authorities. Identifying individual ships and their owners is therefore a significant challenge. As a result, most of the private initiatives have developed their own vessel databases to pool and correlate static data from varying sources. These range in size from around 75,000 vessels to over 779,00, but a far cry from FAO estimates of 4.6 million fishing vessels in 2016. Better data management and closer collaboration between the different initiatives to gather, standardise, and analyse this data will contribute to making initiatives against illegal fishing more effective. The report calls in fact for a single unified database, if the fight against IUU fishing is not to be an uphill battle.