Policing the world’s vast and complex ocean ecosystem has proven to be a challenge for regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and governments. Partnerships between the tech industry, fishing companies, and governments can encourage streamlined solutions to bolster maritime security. Ensuring the longevity of global fish stocks requires participation and transparency from all parties fishing our oceans. The technology industry has risen to the ocean’s unique security challenges and created tools to identify illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and human rights abuses at sea.
Remote Fishery Patrols
Fisheries authorities must take concrete and timely action against illicit activity. To achieve this, the authorities must have robust monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) capacity. MCS capacity is bolstered by access to patrol vessels, helicopters, or drones to observe the suspected vessel and by the presence of the proper authorities and jurisdiction to interdict the vessel. Without strong MCS capabilities, criminal actors may easily evade capture. Furthermore, if a region does not have access to patrol vessels, they may not be able to police their waters for illegal activity in the first place.
Until now, there has been a lack of resources that could allow countries with poor MCS capabilities to monitor their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) for vessel encroachments. With the development of new radar satellite constellations, which can deliver information every couple of hours, it is now possible for countries to detect fishing vessels and identify potentially illegal activity at faster rates. The technology is so advanced that it can detect near real-time activity in adverse weather and at night with a great deal of confidence.
This satellite technology can alert fisheries authorities to suspicious vessels’ exact locations and identifications when combined with vessel tracking information. With these tools, fishery patrols are well equipped to address and stop IUU fishing and human rights abuses.
Artificial Intelligence—The Future of Fisheries Technology
IUU fishing vessels are often engaged in numerous crimes and, in some cases, are part of transnational organized criminal networks. The crimes most often committed in tandem with IUU fishing include human and drug trafficking, arms smuggling, tax crimes, money laundering, corruption, and document fraud. Identifying these crimes requires a different approach from mainland policing due to the logistical difficulties and accessibility issues posed by illicit activity on the high seas.
Using satellite imagery, fishery authorities can identify vessel locations and monitor vessel speed and behaviors. But this imagery does not lend itself to identifying human rights abuses or child labor onboard the vessels. Identifying behaviors indicative of these abuses would require constant surveillance or the implementation of a technology that could monitor vessel activity around the clock.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technological advancement capable of 24-7 monitoring of vessels. AI algorithms can learn to detect fishing-related patterns and criminal behavior using footage from cameras onboard fishing vessels or drones hovering above them. These programs can learn to detect anything from types of fish species caught and the method of fishing employed to child labor and forced labor onboard vessels.
Previous studies have shown that machine learning and satellite data could be used to infer forced labor abuse in the world’s fishing fleet. Technology organizations such as Maxar and Global Fishing Watch feature platforms and programs that are good examples of how using technology such as satellite and AI can advance maritime security operations. Given the impressive advancements of monitoring technology in recent years, AI and machine learning have a significant role in securing the oceans and deterring IUU fishing.
The path forward will require collaboration among the technology industry, maritime agencies, governments, and fishing companies to address criminal activity at sea. Due to the broad reach and scope of the IUU fishing activity, monitoring technology will need to be adapted and scaled to prove an integral part of fisheries enforcement.