IUU vessel tracker calls on more countries to share Indonesia’s lead, share data

Indonesia is a model that other countries should follow, according to a leading campaigner advocating for the sharing of fishing data to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

By making its vessel monitoring system (VMS) data publicly available, the country has increased transparency, said Tony Long, CEO of Global Fishing Watch, who was speaking at the 2018 SeaWeb Seafood Summit. The Indonesian fisheries ministry, which has been battling illegal fishing in its waters, moved to share its VMS data in 2017. 

Not enough countries exchange data, said Long, who wants countries to “bring data out into the open” so that vessels’ movements can be tracked and illegal fishing operators exposed. “Global Fishing Watch will take and share any tracking system,” he said.  

More transparency is key to forcing vessel operators into more responsible behavior, argued Long. 

“Why not reward the compliant operators when you can track them?” he said. “The worst actors will stand out by their lack of information and therefore appropriate punishments can be put in place.”

Global Fishing Watch leverages tracking systems like Oceana, Skytruth and Google as well as national systems to map global movement of vessels.

Long’s organization has also recently partnered with the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to track vessels using satellites the monitor lights at night. A screen grab from one such monitoring off the coast of Oman showed that AIS data is underreporting the number of vessels in the waters: The data based on the number of lights in the night sky suggested a far larger fleet at work. 

Furthermore, data collected by Global Fishing Watch suggests that half of all global fishing is unprofitable. This is based on metrics from maps measuring vessel movements against cost of labor and fuel. 

According to Long, “It shows that when you add subsidies it become more profitable. And when you use bonded labor it becomes much more profitable.”

Authorities should focus on the likely unprofitable operators as potentially rogue operators, suggested Long. Government subsidies cover up to half the price of fuel used by major fishery firms in China, with subsidy checks often the difference between loss and profits for major firms like internationally focused CNFC. 


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