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Salvaging the Global Fishing Watch Project

January 16, 2015

There’s a very good blog by Trevor Downing up at WWF-UK on the weaknesses of Google’s big data project, Global Fishing Watch Project, as a way to combat illegal fishing. Here are a few key excerpts.

Very limited AIS deployment without an enforcement regime:

The global context of the project is flawed, perhaps more so than has been noted to date. There are no multilateral governance measures in force for AIS on fishing vessels, not even on the larger size ranges of 300GT and above where AIS is mandated on cargo vessels. The application of the AIS requirements in Regulation 19 of SOLAS Chapter V to fishing vessels is entirely at the behest of the flag state. This also means that none of the global enforcement frameworks for AIS, such as Port State Control, currently exists for fishing vessels. The IMO is unlikely to visit the subject of AIS on fishing vessels until the Cape Town Agreement enters into force.

The IMO is concerned with safety and dislikes public display of AIS data, so we’ll need action from the FAO if AIS is used to combat illegal fishing:

[T]he context at the IMO for any future global introduction of AIS on fishing vessels will be safety, not vessel monitoring…the IMO’s current view on the public display of AIS data transmitted by ships is that it could be detrimental to the safety and security of ships and port facilities.Consideration of the benefits of AIS for the monitoring of fishing vessel – as a supplement to existing Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) – will require the intervention of the FAO. An ideal opportunity for a full discussion on this would be the 3rd Joint IMO/FAO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing, which is currently scheduled for December 2015, where IMO and FAO technical expertise can be brought together.

Fraudulent use of AIS is relatively easy and so the Global Fishing Watch Project is perhaps best designed to identify the “good guys”:

There are major problems with AIS fraud under existing mandated regulations, as has been documented on cargo vessels by Windward (PDF). AIS is not tamper-free even under the most rigorous of regulatory systems. Windward also documents examples of obscuring destinations, going dark (i.e turning AIS off), GPS positional manipulation.

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