Illegal Fishing Reduced Due To Use Of Techonolgy

By January 30, 2013 Ocean Solutions


Terrestrial wildlife is being threatened by poachers…The marine equivalent could be illegal fishing. But the ocean is a much bigger area and uninhabited, so it’s very difficult to control all the vessels and their licenses. IT’s even more difficult to track illegal sales of fish after the products leave the boats. If we want to solve the overfishing crisis, we have to solve illegal fishing. But how do we stop illegal fishing?


Let’s talk about overfishing first. It’s a global problem that is threatening our oceans. Fish populations are decreasing by fishing faster than the fish can reproduce. It means that we are not giving them time enough to recover from the fishing, so everyday we have less fishes in our oceans. Last year’s SOFIAreport states that 29.9% of all the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted. Another 57.4% is fully exploited, these are in imminent danger of overexploitation (maximum sustainable production level) and collapse. Also, about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone.


WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) suggests an inexpensive and effective solution: to use satellite technology to reduce the amount of illegal fishing taking place in the oceans. Most ships use the AIS (Automatic Identification System) as traffic data, transmitting their identity, position, course and speed, so they can be monitored and they can avoid collisions. We already have the necessary satellites in the space, so there is no need for a huge investment to acquire the technology. WWF obtained a large database, and they used that data to re-create fishing routes. So if a vessel says that they catch their fish in Morocco, for example, you can see if this is true or not just by checking the AIS satellite data. This can be combined with other techniques like cloud-penetrating satellite imagery, to specify even more their position.

global shipping routes 1

The Challenge

AIS technology is only mandatory in certain types of boats. For example, European ships larger than 24m have to wear the equipment for the AIS. Also, it’s not enough to wear it, as it can be turned off. They want to make it mandatory on every commercial fishing vessel.

However, it remains unclear what kind of organization should take care of this data, as this will be a huge database, but with international consequences. So, it has to be an organization able to manage that database worldwide. Maybe the FAO is the best option for this. Or should this data be public? This way, everyone could report pirate fishing, and the cost will be lower, but maybe the fishermen could say that this is part of their intimacy.

Do you think AIS data should be available to the public? Let us know in the comments below

Check Out These Similar Posts

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Hector R. Leta says:

    FAO could be a good choice to manage AIS data.
    Then let us supose FAO processes the data and finds that a number of fishing boats are fishing illegally in certain fishing areas what would be the upcoming process? Who will be in charge to apply the law over those companies involved on illegal fishing?. Which actions should be taken?
    I believe one of the actions at the end of the process could be to release the information of the AIS data to the public.

  • Andrew Lewin says:

    Enforcement is a big issue when it comes to monitoring MPAs. Hopefully, each country will have its own penalties through legislation of each MPA. The punishments given out in many countries are often considered to lenient, which makes breaking the law easier for people who are not worried about being caught or paying a minimal fine.

  • Richard Curtin says:

    Fishermen are very cautious about sharing data on the whereabouts of their fishing grounds. They generally dont want other fishermen knowing their grounds. The problem with making this data public is that the fishermen will be checking out where the others are going. For this reason they will fiercely oppose its introduction. On the other hand, if certain regional, national or international bodies controlled the data for fisheries management and research then the fishermen wouldnt be so opposed (even though they still wouldnt welcome it with open arms!).

  • rachel says:

    In European waters all fishing vessels have to have VMS switched on and it is illegal to switch it off (if the boat is above 12m). The use of AIS is therefore completely irrelevant. There are ample papers looking at the VMS data in European waters. Does WWF not even know the basics of fisheries law in the EU?

  • Richard Curtin says:

    Rachel, AIS sends data every second (or thereabouts)whereas VMS sends it once every hour or two hours.Therefore you cant accurately tell if a boat is fishing or not going on VMS data. If in between the two hour gap the vessel is fishing then from the data it is not evident.

  • An interesting observation on “secret” fishing grounds. I have seen the requirement to have a vessel monitoring system onboard (often AIS these days as it is cheap or free) becoming a condition of vessel insurance. Amazing how fast the desire not to be monitored goes away with the threat of loss of insurance and thus the ability to fish at all.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.