COUNTRIES AROUND the world are being urged to equip their trawlers with satellite-linked Automatic Identification System (AIS) to cope efficiently with illegal fishing.
AIS is a system that broadcasts a vessel’s identity, position and other information to nearby vessels, coastal tracking stations and low-orbiting commercial satellite.
AIS was established to save lives at sea by helping vessels avoid collisions.
“But, the technology has the capability to be captured by satellites. AIS comes in to play the role of monitoring the movement of vessels at sea,” Mark Young, a senior conservation enforcement officer at Pew Charitable Trusts, said yesterday.
Young was a Coast Guard officer conducting surveillance on illegal fishing in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans for more than a decade before working for Pew.
Under the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, all commercial vessels larger than 300 gross tonnes must use AIS.
However it is not mandatory for fishing vessels unless a coastal state requires it for ships under its jurisdiction.
“But each year, more and more national governments are making it mandatory to use AIS on even small fishing vessels,” he said.
This year the US required fishing vessels of 65 feet or longer to be equipped with AIS.
The system is able to trace vessels and also has the capability to incorporate Vessels Monitoring System (VMS) data that is typically sent from a vessel to fishery management authorities via secure satellite communications to locate a vessel as well as indicate course and speed.
Generally, it is easy to distinguish fishing vessels from other ships as they run at only five knots.
“Transhipment could be also monitored. If you see two vessels operating together at the same time and you could see their zero speed, it is likely transhipment activity,” he said.
Transhipment is a major problem for screening legitimate from illegal fishing, as many trawlers load mixed marine animals into cargo vessels at sea.
However, satellite technology is hard for many developing countries to afford.
To help them combat illegal fishing, Washington-based Pew in partnership with the United Kingdom-based Satellite Application Catapult created Project Eyes on the Seas as a platform to provide a fishing vessel database to developing countries for handling illegal fishing.
“The whole idea behind this was to be able to have a system that provides equal opportunity to any country in the world to have the information they need in order to have better-informed decisions that might have an impact on illegal fishing,” he said.
The Eyes on the Seas system, which includes AIS and VMS, is designed to be a cost-effective global fisheries monitoring and enforcement tool for governments around the world, including the most resource-poor enforcement agencies to monitor and detect illegal fishing and related activities, he added.