How to nab illegal fishermen

AUSTRALIA’S Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has joined the fight against illegal fishing by developing a notification system that alerts authorities when offending vessels arrive in port.
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Chris Wilcox

Staff Reporter

The CSIRO said the web-based reporting tool identified and ranked vessels across the globe based on a list of behaviours associated with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
CSIRO senior scientist and co-designer of the platform Dr Chris Wilcox said the tool used data collected by satellites to monitor and report suspiciously behaving vessels. 
"Almost all vessels are equipped with anti-collision devices that can be detected by satellites," Wilcox said.
"Using data from these systems, we can shine a spotlight on vessels acting suspiciously based on factors including the vessel's history, movement and whether its transmitter has been intentionally disabled.
"Countries will be able to sign-up to receive notifications, or directly access the portal to search for vessels and then be provided with a report which highlights the suspicious behaviours involved."
The announcement follows the execution of the first international treaty aimed at eradicating illegal fishing, coordinated by the United National Food and Agriculture Organisation and agreed to by 29 countries.  
"As well as costing tens of billions of dollars each year, illegal fishing leads to overfishing and depletion of stocks which has the greatest impact on developing countries whose people rely on fish as their primary source of protein and income," Dr Wilcox said.
"As global population numbers continue to grow, combatting illegal fishing is becoming even more important to ensure future food security for the world."
The CSIRO team led by Wilcox has also been working closely with the Indonesian government to address the problem.
The project is part of a collaboration with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his US-based company, Vulcan.
"This valuable tool will enable enforcement agencies to identify and locate suspicious vessels all over the world," said Dr Mark Powell, illegal fishing program officer for Vulcan.
"Countries that use this new tool will now be able to reverse the tide of illegal fishing and help rebuild depleted fish stocks."
The platform will be officially launched in October and is already anticipated by several national and international surveillance agencies, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation-funded Global Fishing Watch.
The CSIRO says that illegal fishing is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after weapons trafficking and drug smuggling. It is estimated there are 26 million tonnes of illegal fish caught each year, worth about $23 billion.
"It happens in all parts of the world but is particularly problematic in the developing world where low capacity and funding make it difficult to fight. A third of fish in US and Australian markets appears to be illegal and 120 million people globally depend on fishing for their income," the CSIRO said.