NOAA released its biennial report to Congress on ‘Improving International Fisheries Management’ in which it identified six nations – Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Portugal – whose fisherman are consistently engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Over the next two years, NOAA Fisheries will work with their counterparts in each of these countries to implement sound fisheries management and enforcement practices. As one of the largest seafood importers in the world, the US will use its sway to punish those countries that do not comply by curtailing seafood trade with that country or limiting port privileges to its fishing vessels.
Satellites are critical to fisheries management and enforcement, especially in their ability to monitor a vessel’s location. Vessels on the open ocean are out of range of land-based networks, so satellites are used to detect signals emitted from a transponder mounted on the vessel. The signal is able to provide information on the vessel’s direction and location, among other details.
A single point in time observation of a fishing vessel may be helpful in recognizing ships that venture into protected areas, though it does not help in explicitly identifying illegal activities. More data points allow you to see trajectory, and to map patterns that may otherwise be missed. This is where much excitement is happening around the growth in small satellite constellations. With a network of inexpensive, quickly deployed satellites the vastness of the entire ocean can be monitored in near real-time, providing data that will curb illegal and unreported fishing activities. Combining data from these small satellites with high-resolution imagery provides an even more powerful monitoring tool, enabling maritime security agencies to identify even those ships that are cloaked or operating without their legally mandated transponders.
Illegal fishing is a worldwide problem, one that threatens marine habitats, food security, and the economic viability of nations that largely depend on their maritime activities for economic growth. The estimated annual losses from illegal fishing are between $10 billion to $23 billion globally. There is a means to curb these losses, and we are seeing it develop today with satellite-based monitoring.