Countries, NGOs form tighter bonds to shut down IUU vessels

Two different governments had captured the STS-50, but it had escaped both times. Authorities believed the vessel was fishing illegally, and had regularly falsified its nationality, sailing under eight different national flags over the years.

When Indonesian authorities at last apprehended the vessel in early April, they were able to do so because of growing cooperation between countries and with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are seeking to fight illegal fishing.

Illegal operators try to avoid detection by regularly changing vessel identity, vessel owner, and fishing location. Sometimes those changes are legitimate, but oftentimes they’re not.

In response, fishery authorities are sharing information with each other through new and expanded networks. And NGOs are offering expertise and resources that regulators might not otherwise have.

The STS-50, for example, was listed as a vessel that was involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and Interpol had issued a notice against it on behalf of New Zealand. Those listings were recorded on the updated Combined IUU Vessel List published by the fisheries enforcement experts at Trygg Mat Tracking, a nonprofit that provides fisheries enforcement support.

Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) first launched the IUU list in 2012 because even though regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) were listing vessels known to be fishing illegally, those vessels would disappear as soon as they changed name, flag state, or fishing grounds. 

Seafood and insurance companies, investors and officials in port, market, and flag states can use the list to determine whether to deny access to IUU-listed fishing vessels. But the list alone won’t halt illegal fishing, as illegal operators use other methods of evading the authorities, such as forging documents, sharing vessel identities, transferring fish at sea illegally and using ports at night or during holidays.

“The Combined IUU List is just one tool, which needs to be used in combination with other tools and approaches to detect IUU fishing vessels and prevent them from accessing markets and services,” Eleanor Partridge, an analyst at TMT, told SeafoodSource.

The Combined IUU Vessel List consolidates all the RFMO lists in one place, along with vessels that are subject to a public Interpol notices, making it easier for enforcement officials and others to track vessels fishing illegally. Users can view detailed information about all vessels currently IUU listed, in addition to delisted vessels.

TMT recently updated the IUU list with a new interface, search functions, and the last known location of vessels that are broadcasting automatic identification system (AIS) signals, along with more historic information and database downloading abilities.

The website also now links directly to TMT’s internal fisheries analytic system, called FACT, which contains a much larger number of vessels and is updated automatically on a weekly basis. 

“An analyst will still assess every update before posting to the Combined IUU List, to avoid sharing incorrect information, but it is now much easier for us to keep up with changes in vessel details as they occur,” Partridge said.

The IUU list does not contain vessels operating in fisheries not under the mandate of an RFMO, such as coastal trawl fisheries in West Africa and the squid fisheries of the South Atlantic.

More and more, NGOs – such as TMT and OceanMind, a nonprofit that seeks to increase sustainability of fishing with advanced technology – are helping enforcement officials with location tracking, data analysis, and other aspects of fisheries enforcement.

“NGOs can help by aiding in capacity building and bringing in ideas that agency staff might not have been exposed to,” Bradley Soule, the chief fisheries analyst at OceanMind, told SeafoodSource. “However, this needs to be tempered with an acknowledgement that governments are the ultimate stewards of the resources on behalf of their citizenry.”

But national governments are working closer than ever with NGOs like OceanMind, which lent Indonesia key assistance in its apprehension of the STS-50. 

Interpol had picked up the vessel’s location and AIS transponder information after an inspection by authorities in Madagascar, but the vessel’s AIS transponder was using the same AIS identity number as 80 other AIS transponders, muddying the location data.

So analysts at OceanMind used satellite imagery to pinpoint the AIS transmissions from the STS-50, and isolate them from the rest of the AIS noise. OceanMind then fed that information to Interpol as the STS-50 crossed the Indian Ocean from Madagascar toward Southeast Asia. 

As Interpol and the Indonesian Navy prepared to intercept the vessel in the Strait of Malacca, OceanMind provided real-time intelligence to Interpol every hour for 36 hours, allowing the Indonesian Navy to intercept the vessel.

The STS-50 is now being detained and investigated for illegal fishing and other transnational organized associated fisheries crimes.

Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd


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