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.
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