How Technology Helps Increase Transparency and Improve Safety at Sea  - Oceana USA
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How Technology Helps Increase Transparency and Improve Safety at Sea 

The world’s oceans face a dire threat: illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is outside the bounds of the law, and it includes fishing without a permit, fishing in a closed area or for a prohibited species, fishing in an unmanaged area or for an unmanaged fish, or failing to accurately report catch. Across the globe, IUU fishing contributes to overfishing, harms ocean wildlife, and is explicitly linked to forced labor and human rights abuses. To make matters worse, monitoring fishing activities at sea is a notoriously difficult challenge.

The good news is technology is evolving to help better monitor vessels and their activities at sea. Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a vessel tracking tool developed to increase maritime safety, reduce vessel collisions, and enhance awareness of vessel locations at sea. AIS uses a very high frequency (VHS) radio and GPS satellite receivers to accurately identify a vessel’s location, speed, and direction. It essentially functions as the “eyes of the boat,” enabling vessels to “see” each other’s identity, location, and activity.

Although the publicly available data from AIS was originally used to increase safety at sea, amid growing concerns over IUU fishing, the device has become a helpful tool for transparency. By analyzing the AIS data, it is possible to map fishing activities across the world’s oceans, while simultaneously increasing safety at sea.

By using data from Global Fishing Watch, an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and SkyTruth, Oceana exposed nearly 300 vessels flagged to China fishing near the Galapagos Marine Reserve without their AIS activated, appearing to “go dark” for over 600,000 hours. Oceana’s Illegal Fishing and Transparency campaign team continues to raise awareness of the issues caused by a lack of transparency on our oceans and advocates for stronger fisheries regulations.

AIS devices are a game changer, allowing the public, fisheries managers, and researchers to track the largest fishing vessels as they operate around the world. Some governments, like the European Union, require AIS use on many fishing vessels. Unfortunately, in the United States the benefits of AIS are limited by narrow regulations. Only fishing vessels greater than 65 feet are required to carry AIS, just 12% of the more than 19,000 registered U.S. commercial fishing vessels. And those vessels are only required to use their AIS devices within 12 nautical miles of shore, despite the majority of fishing taking place further out to sea. The European Union requires AIS use for all vessels 15 meters or greater for the entirety of their voyage. With commercial fishers facing the highest fatality rates of any occupation, and growing concerns of IUU fishing, the United States should expand the AIS requirements to match the EU and improve maritime safety in the U.S.

To learn more, read Oceana’s AIS fact sheet here.

Bad actors can alter AIS transmissions to camouflage illegal fishing activity. Spoofing is the purposeful manipulation of a vessel’s AIS device to hide or alter a ship’s location or identity. Manipulation of AIS devices is a rare occurrence and detectable by platforms like GFW.

To learn more about spoofing, and how it can be thwarted, read Oceana’s AIS spoofing fact sheet here.

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