Green Hotels Association
    August 2017  


Satellites Help Reel In
Fish Poachers

Researchers in Australia and the US, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, are using satellites to fight illegal fishing—which causes billions of dollars a year in commercial losses and depletes stocks. With the world’s third-largest fishery zone covering 9 million square kilometres, Australia is at the forefront of efforts to combat poaching. Its patrol ships have chased illegal trawlers almost as far as South Africa, a distance of 7400km, to stop the plunder of prized Patagonian toothfish—sold in the US as Chilean sea bass.

Australian government scientists and Vulcan, Mr. Allen’s private company, have developed a notification system that alerts authorities when suspected pirate vessels from west Africa arrive at ports on remote Pacific islands and South America.

The system relies on anti-collision transponders installed on nearly all ocean-going craft as a requirement under maritime law. These devices are detectable by satellite. A statistical model helps identify vessels whose transponders have been intentionally shut off. Other data identifies fishing boats that are loitering in risk areas, such as near national maritime boundaries. “We can shine a spotlight on vessels acting suspiciously, based on factors including the vessel’s history, movement and whether its transmitter has been intentionally disabled,” said Chris Wilcox, who helped develop the system for Australia’s CSIRO.

“On one hand you can’t see them (if their transponder is switched off), but on the other it means they’ve just flagged themselves as avoiding surveillance, and as a risk indicator, that’s at the top of the list,” he said. Illegal fishing is estimated to account for 11% to 19% of the global catch, according to Australia’s government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And a third of all fish sold in the US is believed to be caught illegally.

Seafood consumption in wealthy nations has soared in recent decades, increasing reliance on imports. Between 1980 and 2014, US seafood consumption rose 60%, with imports now meeting 90% of the demand, according to Global Fishing Watch and the World Wildlife Fund. Illegal fishing can be highly lucrative because violators don’t pay duties or taxes on their illegal catches. And it was nearly impossible to detect illegally caught products when they entered the global seafood market, Dr. Wilcox said.

Poachers ignore catch quotas intended to protect species from overfishing and use outlawed equipment, including nets stretching 24km or more that scoop up everything in their path. Illegal fishing causes commercial losses of up to $US23 billion a year worldwide, according to the UN.

Nearly half the world’s population relies on seafood as their primary source of protein, the CSIRO says, and demand is expected to grow. Fish exports were valued at about $US148 in 2014, UN statistics show.

The researchers’ satellite-based tracking tool will begin operating in October and will be free to access. It was set up in response to a treaty aimed at eradicating illegal fishing that came into force last June. The Agreement on Port State Measures had agreement from 29 countries, including African nations previously linked to illegal fishing. “Countries that use this new tool will now be able to reverse the tide of illegal fishing and help rebuild depleted fish stocks,” said Mark Powell, illegal fishing program officer for Vulcan.

China is the world’s largest seafood producer, followed by Indonesia, the US and Russia. The most critical area for poaching is off the coast of west Africa, where illegal, unauthorized and unregulated fishing accounts for an estimated 40% of fish caught, according to the World Ocean Review. Other areas of concern include the western and southern Pacific and the southwest Atlantic. Illegal trawlers contribute to overfishing that threatens marine ecosystems and food security in some of the poorest countries.

Last year, Argentina’s coast guard opened fire on and sank a Chinese trawler that was fishing illegally in its waters. South Korea’s coast guard fired on Chinese poachers several months later. Australian authorities have said geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea, a rich fishing ground, may be driving more illegal fishing vessels into the South Pacific from China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Taylor, Rob, Satellites Help Reel In Fish Poachers,
The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2017


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Illegal Fishing

Illegal fishing is estimated to account for 11% to 19% of the global catch, according to Australia’s government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And a third of all fish sold in the US is believed to be caught illegally.


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