Starboard leveraging Spire’s Real-time AIS and AIS Position Validation to curb Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing

The marine resources of the Pacific Ocean are of immense importance for global food security, regional economies, biodiversity, and cultural traditions. Revenue from fisheries contribute over a billion dollars to the economies of small developing island nations. Ensuring the sustainability of this resource requires untangling an intricate web of challenges.

What makes the Pacific so challenging and what technologies can be used to foster sustainable management and conservation?

An analysis of data from the western central Pacific reveals that under- and mis-reporting of tuna catches are the most significant component of IUU fishing in this region. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing for tuna is estimated at an annual catch of 200,000 tons. In addition to jeopardizing the economic gains of Pacific coastal nations from fishing activities in their waters, inaccurate reporting skews data that are used to set catch limits for the sustainability of the fishery.

The collaboration between Spire Maritime and Starboard Maritime Intelligence, a company that has built a comprehensive maritime domain awareness platform, provides new tools to support the control and surveillance of offshore fisheries. Using Spire’s global Real-time AIS data, Starboard employs machine learning to identify vessel behaviors including fishing and transshipment of fish at sea.

Sometimes, vessels do not transmit geolocations in their AIS messages or spoof their location, making it hard to track them. Spire’s recently launched Position Validation product triangulates the location of transmissions using its satellites, so that vessel positions can be estimated, this can be used to uncover potential illegal activity including when vessels fish in zones and EEZs without authorization.

Identifying IUU fishing activities

Fisheries analysts often need a comprehensive picture of maritime activities to detect unauthorized fishing or non-compliance with conservation management measures. To do this, analysts have to merge vessel-reported data with activities derived from AIS track analysis and third-party information. Data from 15 regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) is merged with Spire Maritime’s Real-time AIS data by Starboard, including authorization periods, permitted fishing activities, and transshipment authorizations. Insights previously not available alongside AIS, such as the vessel’s specific fishing methods, are now instantly accessible through the Starboard platform.

Spire’s Real-time AIS and Starboard support regional collaboration

When fishing vessels operate far from their home jurisdiction, multilateral collaboration between RFMOs, port states, coastal states, and flag states is needed to create impactful action to stop IUU fishing.

In November 2022, a fisheries control officer looking at Spire’s Real-time AIS displayed in Starboard noticed unusual movements of the Sun Flower 7, a Korean-flagged fish carrier. This vessel was operating in the northern part of Kiribati’s EEZ and the adjacent high seas. The discovery prompted further investigation by another Starboard user at the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development. Thai authorities were informed when it was apparent the Sun Flower 7 was headed to Bangkok to offload its catch.

As a result, Thai authorities prohibited the landing of more than $7 million USD worth of tuna and the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries issued the vessel an administrative fine of $150,000 USD, when it was deemed to be deploying fish aggregating devices (FADs) counter to the terms of its RFMO authorisation.

Unusual vessel movements of the Sun Flower 7, during November 2022, in the northern part of Kiribati’s EEZ and the adjacent high seas.

Fish carriers such as the Sun Flower 7 are integral to the seafood supply chain but they can also be vectors for IUU caught fish to enter the consumer market. Analyzing vessel movements, including encounters and transshipments, stakeholders can trace part of the supply chain of fish from capture to ports.

AIS can also play a pivotal role in port state measures which are specifically designed to combat IUU fishing. Fisheries officers can use the information to validate self-reported transshipment events declared by fish carriers upon entering ports, enhancing transparency and accountability.

AIS Position Validation: A technology unique to Spire Maritime for the detection of possible vessel behaviour anomalies

Spire Maritime embarked on a journey to create an advanced geolocation solution, AIS Position Validation. Leveraging the Doppler effect, Spire Maritime can estimate a vessel’s location based on the frequency shift of its transmitted signal. Multiple messages from constellations of satellites are required to perform accurate Doppler geolocation. The resulting geolocation service, AIS Position Validation, has proven invaluable in enhancing maritime security and monitoring vessel activities.

A key aspect of the solution’s success is its near real-time capability. The Position Validation service operates globally, showing events as they unfold. The solution’s effectiveness lies in its ability to detect vessel behavior anomalies, leading to the identification of potential security threats and violations.

One example of the detection of a mismatch between AIS-reported geolocation and the vessel’s position as determined by Position Validation involves the vessel Lurongyuanyu186.

  • Starboard’s initial analysis revealed a gap in AIS data; this is represented on the tracking map by a dashed line connecting AIS positions on either side of the gap.
  • AIS Position Validation was then used to detect the location of the vessel while it was not transmitting its geolocation.
  • This revealed a critical insight: While the vessel was not reporting its coordinates it may have illegally entered the Argentinian EEZ to fish.

AIS Position Validation and the fight against positioning inaccuracies, unauthorized vessel activities, and vessel spoofing

AIS systems have been criticized for their vulnerability to be tampered with. For example, transmission of geographic coordinates may be disabled or manipulated (spoofed) to show the vessel at a wrong location. These issues can hinder effective monitoring and facilitate illicit activities such as smuggling and illegal fishing. AIS Position Validation greatly reduces these concerns by providing additional accuracy and coverage.

AIS Position Validation independently calculates a vessel’s location at the time of the AIS transmission (even if AIS messages do not include valid GPS data).

This can be compared to the reported position contained within the AIS messages received from the vessel.

The collaboration between Starboard and Spire Maritime’s AIS Position Validation has resulted in the validation of vessel positions misreporting their AIS and has significantly enhanced the accuracy of maritime domain awareness by identifying discrepancies between reported positions and actual vessel locations.

Alongside AIS Position Validation the Spire-Starboard collaboration provides several approaches to uncover hidden vessel activity. Starboard detects AIS-equipped buoys frequently used in longline fishing. When a longliner vessel does not transmit its location via AIS, Starboard’s buoy tracking may allow the estimation of the position and activity of the vessel.

Learn more in this recent webinar with Spire and Starboard “AIS: Harnessing state of the art maritime solutions to uncover hidden fishing vessel movements in the Pacific


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