IUU vessel-tracker shows possible widespread abuse of AIS switch-off capability

A screen shot of Oceana's IUU Vessel Tracker.

A newly launched map of the locations of fishing vessels involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has one big problem: there’s not much to show.

The new tool, the IUU Vessel Tracker, was launched Wednesday, 16 June, by non-governmental organization Oceana. It uses Global Fishing Watch tracking data cross-indexed with a list of vessels linked to IUU compiled by regional fishery management organizations and Norway-based nonprofit Trygg Mat Tracking. But Oceana said the tool, which allows anyone in the world to track the activities of these vessels in near real-time, is currently tracking just two of 168 vessels on the list. The two vessels visible, the Phoenix and the Nadhodka, are flagged to the Seychelles and Russia, respectively.

“The [other] vessels may have changed their identities, may no longer be fishing, or – more likely – do not have their automatic identification systems on,” Oceana said in a statement. “Governments must require fishing vessels to continuously broadcast their AIS signals to increase transparency and accountability at sea. If there’s nothing to hide, why turn AIS off?”

Flagrant abuse of the satellite navigator system for fishing vessels is casting doubt on use of the automatic identification system (AIS) as a viable tool for vessel safety and fisheries management, Oceana Illegal Fishing and Transparency Analyst Marla Valentine told SeafoodSource.

“AIS was initially designed as a safety mechanism for vessels to avoid collisions at sea, and is still a valuable maritime safety tool,” Valentine said, but it’s only useful “if governments require that all fishing vessels carry and continually broadcast tamper-resistant AIS for the duration of their trips at sea, and if this data is used to enforce good behavior of their fleets.”

Nations and regional fisheries management organizations all must do a better job in enforcing existing regulations on use of AIS, Valentine said.

“Governments can implement fines and revocations of licenses and import bans on vessel owners and companies for violations of their AIS laws,” Valentine said. “RFMOs start the process by identifying vessels that are conducting IUU activities, but rely on their member-countries to provide enforcement. Governments should do their part to introduce rules banning the provision of services of any kind to vessels on IUU vessel lists, including logistical support and port services, insurance, and other financial services.”

Oceana’s launch of the IUU Vessel Tracker comes amidst an intense debate amongst member-countries of the World Trade Organization, which are currently negotiating a deal on ending harmful subsidies for fisheries in order to reduce IUU fishing and overfishing. A major topic of debate in the negotiations has been how best to ensure transparency in how nations manage their fishing fleets. A trade official familiar with the negotiations told SeafoodSource last week that progress on the accord has been “slower than expected.”

Image courtesy of Oceana


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