FishNET: Protecting Our Oceans

SUMMARY: As the various types of IUU fishing create a multi-faceted problem, a single technology cannot solve it all. Low cost detection technologies improve the effectiveness of maritime enforcement agencies. Information channels should be established to transmit as much information as possible from a variety of sources to be collected and organized in a coherent form and disseminated from a single point for relevant stakeholders to manage responses and take action. This lack of this data is a major inhibitor to increased political and economic will to protect our oceans.

Local fishermen and legitimate industrial fishing operations can be our eyes on the water. This data can be aggregated from acoustic buoy sensors, low cost UAVs, satellite imagery (optical, synthetic aperture radar), long range radar, Vessel Monitoring System data, etc. The use of an algorithm and evaluation process can identify places the ideal ways in which to use or deploy these assets. This information is captured and collaborated in FishNET.

FishNET, the IT solution, would be a “”smarter”” way to handle IUU offense information, given our current technological advances in internet, web 2.0 and social media. This is a technological evolution from the current ‘IUU blacklist’ into a more comprehensive IUU data management tool. The system would be consistent across international boundaries (with robust security) – particularly important given that IUU fishing being an international problem. It is a web-based data repository where you can capture offense information, vessel IDs, and other media (pictures, video, geospatial/geotagged information, etc.). This can operate on an open framework, allowing collaboration through a more ‘crowd sourced’ level than in currently used. Stakeholders are NGOs, fishermen, reputable commercial fishing operations, recreational divers, sailors, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and governments, collaborating on a level they never have before.

PROBLEM SPACE: Our oceans are in an unprecedented level of peril. With the oceans apex predators at 10% of 1950s-levels and 80% of fish stocks either vulnerable to collapse or collapsed, IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) industrial fishing practices threatens to disrupt the ecosystem in unforeseen ways.

SOLUTION: This initiative strives to empower those beyond the current bureaucratic decision makers. Increased data sharing will build a better information framework for fisheries management and marine protected area identification. The lack of a single global database of this information enables further corrupt action in our EEZs and high seas. The current reliance on international governments and high level management organizations leads to low frequency and high cost approaches to monitoring. Currently the problem is managed through international policy or regional observer programs.

The legal framework for protecting the ocean really started in 1992, when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea entered into force. Shortly after that, the UN Food and Agriculture organization created a technical management framework for sustainable fisheries. Since then, governments and similar organizations have banded together to set up management policies and cooperative frameworks. Their methods are military surveillance, loose legal frameworks, and treaties that do not bind non-participants. This tends to be ineffective and expensive.

Observer programs are also frequently implemented as a means to gather data and monitor compliance. These observers generally assume an independent role as an officer on board vessels. Unfortunately, their effectiveness varies due to frequent corruption.