Tech so­lu­tions to tackle over­fish­ing, labour abuse at sea

Malta Independent - - FEATURE -

Fish­ing boats used high-tech sys­tems to find vast schools of fish for decades, de­plet­ing stocks of some species and lead­ing to the com­plete col­lapse of others. Now more than a dozen apps, de­vices and mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems aimed at track­ing un­scrupu­lous ves­sels and the seafood they catch are be­ing rolled out — high-tech so­lu­tions some say could also help pre­vent labour abuse at sea.

Il­le­gal fish­ing, which in­cludes catch­ing un­der­sized fish, ex­ceed­ing quo­tas and cast­ing nets in pro­tected ar­eas, leads to an es­ti­mated $23 bil­lion in an­nual losses, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Mean­while, over­fish­ing close to shore has pushed boats far­ther out, where there are few laws and even less en­force­ment to pro­tect work­ers from abuse. Slav­ery has been doc­u­mented in the fish­ing sec­tors of more than 50 coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to US State De­part­ment re­ports.

Ear­lier this year, US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said us­ing tech­nol­ogy at sea could even­tu­ally mean “there is not one square mile of ocean where we can­not pros­e­cute and hold peo­ple ac­count­able...”

How­ever, Phil Robert­son, deputy Asia di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, cau­tions that catch­ing hu­man traf­fick­ers goes be­yond find­ing boats.

“Tech­nol­ogy is all about know­ing where the fish­ing boats are on the ocean, but that does pre­cious lit­tle for crews be­ing phys­i­cally abused and worked to the bone on those ves­sels,” he said.

Here are some emerg­ing tech so­lu­tions: App for work­ers

Non-profit anti-traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion Project Is­sara is tap­ping into near-ubiq­ui­tous smart­phones with an app that al­lows Burmese and Cam­bo­dian mi­grant work­ers around the world to share in­for­ma­tion about their work­ing con­di­tions. Their re­views reach non­prof­its, gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses which can mon­i­tor and learn from the feed­back. Com­bined with a new mul­ti­lin­gual hot­line, vic­tims of labour abuses have a safer, dis­creet way of seek­ing help.

Bar codes

A worker runs a gad­get over a fish just af­ter it’s pulled from the boat, giv­ing it a bar code that cre­ates a per­ma­nent record of where it was caught. It’s a sim­ple swipe with pro­found po­ten­tial. Thomas Kraft at Nor­pac Fish­eries Ex­port es­tab­lished one of the in­dus­try’s first bar-code sys­tems that give each fish a tag that can pro­vide de­tails about lo­ca­tion, boat, species, and weight. He’s been us­ing the tech­nol­ogy in lo­ca­tions world­wide and says it could eas­ily be ex­panded to in­clude crews on in­di­vid­ual boats to help fight against labour abuse.

Eyes on the seas

Eyes on the Seas uses satel­lite track­ers, radar sig­nals, drone images, even ra­dio sig­nals to cre­ate a dy­namic world map. An­a­lysts us­ing al­go­rithms and ob­ser­va­tions can iden­tify boats that ap­pear to be il­le­gally fish­ing in pro­tected ar­eas or pulling near each other to off­load il­lic­itly caught seafood. They can then con­tact na­tional au­thor­i­ties with de­tailed ev­i­dence about where a boat is and what it ap­pears to be do­ing. Eyes on the Seas can spot boats even if they turn off their ba­sic safety satel­lite track­ers, which may be a de­ter­rent for would-be bad ac­tors, but con­fi­den­tial data used in the sys­tem means it can­not be pub­licly avail­able. Built by the Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts and a U.K. gov­ern­ment satel­lite start-up ini­tia­tive, the sys­tem is still be­ing fine-tuned.

Global fish­ing watch

Like Eyes on the Seas, this tool pro­vides a nearly-live view of fish­ing boats at sea around the world. But the data it uses to iden­tify boats comes al­most ex­clu­sively from Au­to­matic Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tems, satel­lite track­ers used in large ves­sels that are eas­ily switched on and off. Rolled out ear­lier this year, Global Fish­ing Watch is on the web and open to the pub­lic in beta form, with tracks for 35,000 fish­ing boats go­ing back more than four years. Oceana, SkyTruth and Google part­nered to build the site, with sup­port from Leonardo DiCaprio Foun­da­tion.

Tech for tuna

Cam­eras are record­ing ev­ery­thing that comes over the rail and onto the deck of a few dozen tuna boats loaded with mo­tion sen­sors and GPS sys­tems in the western Pa­cific Ocean. The goal of The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy’s project is to get the record­ing sys­tems on thou­sands of tuna boats in the Palau long-line fleet. The chal­lenge is re­view­ing the video: about 800 hours of footage from each twom­onth fish­ing trip. This month the non-profit en­vi­ron­men­tal group is launch­ing a $150,000 prize for ma­chine-learn­ing soft­ware that can spot tur­tles, shark finning and un­der­sized tuna be­ing il­le­gally reeled in.

A close up look in­side a Satlink high def­i­ni­tion elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing cam­era be­fore it was in­stalled on a long­line tuna boat in Palau

A long­line tuna boat pre­pares for their next fish­ing trip in Palau. Cam­eras are record­ing ev­ery­thing that comes over the rail and onto the deck of a few dozen tuna boats loaded with mo­tion sen­sors and GPS sys­tems in the western Pa­cific Ocean. The goal of The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy’s project is to get the record­ing sys­tems on thou­sands of tuna boats in the Palau long­line fleet.

Kalie Luii, a com­pli­ance of­fi­cer for the Divi­sion of Oceanic Fish­eries Man­age­ment in Palau, in­stalls a Satlink cam­era face­plate with wa­ter­proof cover on a long­line tuna boat

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