Canada Launches International Effort to Detect Illegal Fishing 

illegal fishing
(file photo)

Published Feb 24, 2021 2:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canada is launching an international program to aid countries around the world to track illegal fishing activities. Using satellite technology, nations including small islands that have been impacted by illegal fishing activities will now be able to focus their investigations and maximize their enforcement effort to protect their fish stocks.

"Illegal fishing threatens the health of our fish stocks and takes resources away from hard-working, law-abiding fishers. Through the Dark Vessel Detection program, we're partnering with other ocean nations to better detect and prevent illegal fishing around the world. We're investing in one of the leading, most innovative systems on the planet to ensure our fish stocks are protected, our fisheries remain lucrative, and the law is upheld at sea," said the Honorable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Internationally, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a major contributor to the decline of fish stocks and marine habitat destruction. Illegal fishing occurs both on the high seas and within the 200 mile limits of coastal states. It is estimated that it accounts for about 30 percent of all fishing activity worldwide, representing up to 26 million tons of fish caught annually at a cost to the global economy of more than $18 billion a year. 

Known as the Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) program, the effort uses satellite technology to locate and track vessels whose location transmitting devices have been switched off, sometimes in an attempt to evade monitoring, control and surveillance. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is leading the $5.5 million program in collaboration with the Department of National Defense, Defense Research and Development Canada's Centre for Security Science, Global Affairs Canada, and MDA, a Canadian company providing geointelligence, satellite systems, and robotics and space operations technology. Satellite AIS company exactEarth will be providing the program with real time data from its sensitive detection systems, which are carried as payloads on board Iridium's NEXT satellites. exactEarth's system is capable of detecting low-power transmissions from AIS Class B transcievers - the kind typically mounted on small fishing vessels.

The DVD program will provide state-of-the-art satellite data and analysis to small island nations and coastal states around the world where illegal fishing has a major impact on local economies, food security, and the health of fish stocks. 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada had previously launched a pilot program to track dark vessels internationally, working with the Canadian Space Agency and NGOs to detect dark vessels in the Bahamas and Costa Rica. Canada reports that this pilot program led to significant fines to five foreign vessels. In December 2020, Canadian and Ecuadorian officials also signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize their partnership, and enhance surveillance around the Galapagos Islands.

Other partners in the Dark Vessel program include the Forum Fisheries Agency, which represents 15 small island nations in the Pacific region, and the Ecuadorian Maritime Authority, National Directorate of Aquatic Spaces, which is in charge of surveillance and control in the Ecuadorian maritime domain.