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Combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is a growing worldwide concern as it challenges local fisheries’ management efforts, depletes already overfished fisheries, and has been recognized as a major threat to marine biodiversity. IUU fishing is a particularly important issue for marine resource management in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Coastal States, with their economies heavily depending on fisheries. The dynamic, adaptable, highly mobile and clandestine nature of IUU fishing prevents a precise estimate but rough calculations indicate that IUU fishing globally accounts for 11-26 million tonnes of fish each year with an economic value of US$10-23 billion (FAO 2016).

Conventional aerial and naval assets are very costly to run, which means that most developing coastal states are not able to conduct at-sea patrols to enforce their fisheries laws on a regular basis. Illegal operators are well aware of the enforcement gaps, and that’s why countries like the Seychelles have become a target for many unauthorized fishing operations, including by foreign distant water fleets. To address these challenges, new solutions are being tested in various parts of the world to monitor Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) using remote sensing technologies.

“FishGuard” is a technological solution to tackle illegal fishing that allows fisheries enforcement agencies to use drones equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI), and will be tested in the Seychelles and off the coast of Tanzania. The project stemmed from a support request from the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) to GRID-Arendal, a UN Environment Collaborating Centre, through its Environmental crime program to help them identify a cost-efficient solution to monitor the country’s vast EEZ and protect its valuable fish resources.

The FAO (2016) identifies IUU fishing as a broad term including:

  • Fishing and fishing-related activities conducted in contravention of national, regional and international laws.
  • Non-reporting, misreporting or under-reporting of information on fishing operations and their catches.
  • Fishing by “Stateless” vessels.
  • Fishing in convention areas of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) by non-party vessels.
  • Fishing activities which are not regulated by States and cannot be easily monitored and accounted for.”

Until now, the use of drones for patrolling large marine areas has faced technological restrictions, mainly due to range limitations and prohibitive costs. By replacing the human interaction (remote radio control) by an AI software, ATLAN Space has been able to significantly increase the operational range of low-cost drones. FishGuard uses long endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) equipped with ATLAN Space Artificial Intelligence, allowing them to fly beyond the horizon and cover up to 1,000,000 Ha per UAV per week with an operational range up to 700 km. The Fully Autonomous UAVs monitor very large Marine areas, identify IUU Fishing Vessels and collect legal evidence for further prosecution. Upon identification of a threat, a transcript containing detailed information is sent immediately via satellite short Message to Tm-Tracking analysis and processing tools to advise the best course of action to neutralize the threat. The pilot project will aim proof of concept and sustainability. It will be deployed in the Republic of Seychelles where the EEZ is 1.4 million km² with the full support of the government and local stakeholders.

Satellite surveillance can provide:

  • Ship positions building ship routes
  • List of suspected ships
  • List of suspicious routes and destinations
  • Earth Observation information around suspected ships
  • Ancillary data (open source information such as archive photograph of involved ships).

With FishGuard, the SFA will test the integration of a fisheries information system into the drones’ software to allow them to “understand” the operations their on-board cameras are capturing. With this unprecedented combination of short-range drones, autonomous long-range UAVs, Earth Observation data and fisheries intelligence analysis, it is expected that the pilot projects in Seychelles and Tanzania will help the authorities to identify illegal fishing operations, trigger enforcement actions and crucially produce a deterrent effect on illegal activities. This should significantly decrease the impact of IUU fishing on the marine resources and the people who depend on them in Seychelles and Tanzania.

It is hoped that by demonstrating the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of the system, the Seychelles and Tanzania will pave the way for the solution to be adapted to other uses (such as Marine Protected Area monitoring) and rolled-out in other countries where fisheries enforcement lacks presence at sea. This pilot project is generously funded by the National Geographic Society after it was selected as one of the winning proposals of the 2018 Marine Protection Prize, and the outcomes are expected to be presented in one year.

GRID-Arendal will lead the communications and outreach component throughout the project duration and beyond by developing innovative, state-of-the-art products to effectively communicate messages and project results, including: a series of “stories from the ground” focusing on the impact of illegal fisheries on local communities; short video interviews; photos; news releases; story maps and other promotional and information products. Key messages will be tailored to effectively engage with the different target audiences through news media, social media, partners’ websites communication channels and related initiatives to ensure maximum dissemination. GRID-Arendal is well positioned to serve as a liaison with global media and the UN organizations, such as the UN Environment, Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Office on Drugs and Crime as well as the INTERPOL. Outreach activities will include a kick-off meeting with stakeholders and their further interactions with the project team in Tanzania, capacity building and training activities.

FAO 2016.  Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. 

Status: In progress

Type: Marine

Programme: Environmental Crime

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