October, 2019 – The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries
Agency (FFA) lead Operation Kurukuru is one of the largest maritime
surveillance operations globally covering an area the land size of Russia,
India and Egypt combined.
multi-million-dollar operation targeting Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported
(IUU) fishing was conducted between October 7-18, 2019 and covered 21.3 million
square kilometres. It is coordinated from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance
Centre at the FFA Secretariat in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said “Operation Kurukuru is the largest
of the four major Operations coordinated and supported by the FFA each
year. These operations empower members to take collective and national action against IUU
fishing and the success of these operations is due to
the commitment and partnerships with our members along with the assets provided
by Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States.”
operation consumes considerable resources, but we continue to undertake them to
ensure our members have the highest levels of social and economic benefits
through the protection and sustainable use of our offshore fisheries
resources,” she added.
Operation saw around 132 sea days of active patrolling and 540 flight hours of
maritime air surveillance. There were 131 boardings both at sea and dockside,
with only four infringements found. The FFA Surveillance and Operations Officer
Commander Robert Lewis, seconded from the Royal Australian Navy said “The fact
there were no unknown fishing vessels found with such thorough air surveillance
coverage and only 4 infringements imposed with such a high level of boarding is
evidence that current regulations and law enforcement practices are working
well with the four FFA operations leading the effort.”
Seaman, Sereima Naiqovu from the Fijian Navy was not only the first female
Fijian Naval person to attend Operation Kurukuru but also one of the first
females to join the Fiji navy. In her capacity as Watch Keeper during the
Operation, she said “The Operation was a great experience for me mostly as I
got to experience and learn a lot of new things from the RFSC. I was
overwhelmed to be given the opportunity to be the first female in the Fiji Navy
to go for an Operation and I look forward to experiencing and learning more new
Kurukuru aims to detect, deter, report and/or apprehend potential IUU fishing
activity but also looks to build capacity of watch-keepers, intelligence
analysts and supervisory staff seconded to the RFSC during the Operation, to
conduct their own Operations upon their return home.
Operation involves 15 FFA Members – Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated
States of Micronesia, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of
Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
It also involves the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group – Australia,
France, New Zealand and the United States of America.
information contact Donna Hoerder, FFA Media, ph: +677 21124
About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency
FFA assists its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery
resources that fall within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA
provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who
make sovereign decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional
decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int
24 October, Honiara – The 14 member states of the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMPII) gathered on Tuesday to plan for the final year of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) initiative. During the 7th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Steering Committee meeting, participants reflected on project’s achievements during the year and made plans for the future.
FFA representatives talked final targets for the OFMPII project before it wraps up in 2020. Next year, the project will focus on limits and allocations for tropical tuna on purse seine and longline vessels, longline electronic monitoring, and transhipment review.
Manager, Hugh Walton said one of the main concerns for the next phase of the
project was high seas management.
Fishing Nations (DWFNs), particularly China and Taiwan, want to retain that
right for the high seas transhipment.
“They have to
be able to prove economic disadvantage […] it’s not documented, and it’s not
tested, so it’s a huge loophole and we’re trying to close it.”
The Parties to
the Nauru Agreement Office CEO, Ludwig Kumoru, also emphasised that the project
could only move forward with long-term high seas allocations in place. Current
allocations ensure that available resources are equitably distributed between
fisheries who target the same species outside country Exclusive Economic Zones
Mere Lakeba, Director
of Fisheries, Fiji said that catering to countries’ individual needs was
important moving forward. Hugh Walton, OFMPII coordinator said that this would
be a priority.
the last proposal, the OMFP sent consultants to each country and produced a
template of situational analyses of what was going on in each country to identify
“There is no
one size fits all, and we would not aspire to a one size fits all approach,” Walton
Walton also spoke
of project successes including the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and
the resulting Strategic Action Programme (SAP) produced by Professor David
Vousden of Rhodes University.
The TDA and
SAP have shed light on the current challenges for the management of Pacific
EEZs, and presented Pacific countries with the steps that can be taken to
mitigate the issues.
The report put
root causes of current fisheries issues down to a lack of high seas compliance,
climate change impacts, and pollution from coastal and inland activities.
It also notes
a positive: migratory tuna stocks are currently at sustainable levels due to
the management and efforts of Pacific fisheries over the last 20 years.
All 14 member states have sent letters of
endorsement for the Project Implementation Form (PIF). The PIF was submitted to
the GEF on October 11, and outlines plans for continuing OFMPII activities. A
detailed proposal for the next phase of the project is planned for June 2020.
Japan is known for its love
affair with seafood. If we say tuna, we think of sushi and sashimi – two of the
most famous dishes in Japanese cuisine.
Japan Ministry of Foreign
Affairs officials told visiting Pacific Islands journalists in Tokyo last month
that a sizeable amount of tuna Japan consumes are sourced from the Japanese
vessels licensed to fish in the Pacific region.
Japan is a major fisher of tuna
species in the Pacific region; Japan officials said: “fishing is very important
To protect valuable marine
resources and to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks, Japan’s Free and
Open Indo Pacific Strategy includes a commitment to peace and stability,
including assistance to the Pacific in enhancing maritime safety and stability.
This year, Palau and Japan are
celebrating 25-years of diplomatic ties that “friendship” Japan’s aid has
delivered a wide range of projects from infrastructure, health, education,
maritime security, and climate change.
According to the Forum
Fisheries Agency (FFA) data, the Japanese imports from FFA members was valued
at US $41 million in 2016, with Palau and Fiji as the main supplier of tuna
sashimi grade products to the Japanese market.
Japan has been an important
diplomatic partner to Palau in improving awareness of activities in its
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Boosting its marine surveillance, a Japan-funded patrol boat
called PSS Kedam in now serving as the additional patrol boat for Palau.
The new patrol boat Kedam
is funded with the grant by the Nippon Foundation at a cost of over $30
million, Kedam is expected to enhance Palau’s marine surveillance capabilities
and police its s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
At the Western and Central
Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), Japan is one of
the key players pushing for measures to conserve fish stocks, recognizing its
economic importance to Pacific island nations.
Japan was also instrumental in
keeping catches of juvenile tuna to below 2002–04 average levels as a
The government of Japan
continues to assure island nations of support given that the Pacific islands
states are large ocean states that are custodians of the world’s largest tuna
The WCPO share of the global
catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tunas is between 55% and
58%. In 2016 the total catch of tuna species s was 2.7 million tonnes which 56%
of global production of 4.8 million tonnes, according to FFA.
Kayangel State, one of the sites of the coastal surveillance system. Photo: Richard Brooks
The United States is stepping up its
presence in Palau to protect it from a range of threats like illegal,
unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) with the official launch of the
coastal surveillance system (CSS).
On Oct. 2, the United States Defense
Department, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Palau government held a
ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce that the CSS in outlying states of Kayangel
The CSS is to help Palau monitor maritime
traffic and vessels’ presence in its EEZ especially with the nation about to
close a huge portion of its waters to commercial fishing by January 1, 2020.
CSS according to marine law enforcement can operate the system and see vessel
movement and help the nation achieve maritime security and enhance capabilities
to deal with threats at sea.
systems were installed in Angaur and Kayangel and in the future in other
Southwest Islands States where there have
reports of IUU fishing in these areas.
Scharamek, Academic Program Management Officer of Scripps said that Palau would
be the first nation in the world to test the new surveillance system.
US, which funded the radar, will also install the system in three more sites in
the Southwest Islands of Hatobei and Sonsorol States.
said because of the distance of those states from Koror, where the marine law
is, the system can help respond to issues faster.
Vice President Raynold Oilouch said the system would help the country combat
maritime security issues such as IUU and provide the needed technology to be
able to monitor vessels of up to 75-mile radius.
with the official launching of the CSS, the US deputy military commander for
the Pacific, Army General John “Pete” Johnson said that the US is stepping up
its involvement in the region to help deal with economic threats like illegal
was in Palau last week to attend the celebration of Palau’s 25th Independence
Day on Oct. 1.
are committed to the defense of Palau in any aspect regardless of the threat,”
The UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates IUU fishing accounts for up to 26
million tons of fish a year, translating to between $10 and $23 billion.
Remengesau has earlier said that “The Palau sanctuary law is more than a conservation
policy. It also enhances our capabilities to combat pirate fishing,” IUU
fishing is a global problem that requires global solutions,
Marine Sanctuary will cover an area encompassing 500,000 square kilometers and
roughly 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The law takes
effect in 2020 and, 80 percent of the country’s EEZ will still be a no-take
zone, while 20 percent is designated as a domestic fishing zone.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. (left) Australia’s Ambassador to Palau , George Fraser and Maritime Surveillance Advisor, LCDR Clint Moore (right). Photo courtesy of the Office of the President Palau.
Palau is expected
to receive a new patrol boat from Australia in June 2020 to replace PSS H.I.
In a press
conference on October 2, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. announced that the PSS
H.I. Remellik will
be taken out of commission by February 2020 with the new boat coming in by June
which will be named PSS Remeliik II.
announced the replacement after showing the media a replica of the new boat.
PSS Remeliik was
donated by Australia 24 years ago and the new patrol boat will have a length of
139 feet, which is 35 ft longer than the 104 feet Remeliik.
The new boat can
also take a crew of up to 25.
In February next year, PSS Remeliik will bid its goodbye to Palau to travel to Australia.
The new patrol
boat is estimated to cost around $20 million.
The new patrol
vessel will join Japan donated PSS Kedam and two smaller boats to conduct maritime
surveillance in Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Before PSS Kedam,
Palau only has one patrol boat- PSS H.I Remeliik.
statements, Remenegsau said Kedam and Remeliik will help patrol its ocean and
assist tackling the challenge of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
“We are one percent of land, and 99 percent ocean. And that means, we are indeed a large ocean state, and the ocean is everything to us. It is our food security, it is our economic security, it is our cultural and social security, for it is our way of life.”
has been delivering patrol boats to other Pacific Island Countries. Other
recipients include Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tuvalu,
Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu, FSM, the Marshall Islands, and Cook Islands.
Australia is also
complementing its patrol boat program with aerial surveillance service which is
part of the Australian Government Department of Defence’s $2
billion Pacific Maritime Security Program.
The program will
be in conjunction with the Pacific Patrol Boat program. Palau and FSM are
among the 12 nations in the Pacific that are part of the program. The other
nations are Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands,
Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Tropical tuna are one of the few wild animals we still hunt in large numbers, but finding them in the vast Pacific ocean can be tremendously difficult. However, fishers have long known that tuna are attracted to, and will aggregate around, floating objects such as logs.
In the past, people used bamboo rafts to attract tuna, fishing them while they were gathered underneath. Today, the modern equivalent – called fish aggregating devices, or FADs – usually contain high-tech equipment that tell fishers where they are and how many fish have accumulated nearby.
It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 65,000 man-made FADs are deployed annually and drift through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean to be fished on by industrial fishers. Pacific island countries are reporting a growing number of FADs washing up on their beaches, damaging coral reefs and potentially altering the distribution of tuna.
Our research in two papers, one of which was published today in Scientific Reports, looks for the first time at where ocean currents take these FADs and where they wash up on coastlines in the Pacific.
Attracting fish and funds
We do not fully understand why some fish and other marine creatures aggregate around floating objects, but they are a source of attraction for many species. FADs are commonly made of a raft with 30-80m of old ropes or nets hanging below. Modern FADs are attached to high-tech buoys with solar-powered electronics.
The buoys record a FAD’s position as it drifts slowly across the Pacific, scanning the water below to measure tuna numbers with echo-sounders and transmitting this valuable information to fishing vessels by satellite.
Throughout their lifetimes FADs may be exchanged between vessels, recovered and redeployed, or fished and simply left to drift with their buoy to further aggregate tuna. Fishers may then abandon them and remotely deactivate the buoys’ satellite transmission when the FAD leaves the fishing area.
Fishing licence fees can provide up to 98% of government revenue for some Pacific Island countries and territories. These countries balance the need to sustainably manage and harvest one of the only renewable resources they have, while often having a limited capacity to fish at an industrial scale themselves.
FADs help stabilise catch rates and make fishing fleets more profitable, which in turn generate revenue for these nations.
The abandonment or loss of FADs adds to the growing mass of marine debris floating in the ocean, and they increasingly damage coral as they are dragged and get caught on reefs.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know how the distribution of FADs affects fishing effort in the region. Given that each fleet and fishing company has their own strategy for using FADs, understanding how the total number of FADs drifting in one area increases the catch of tuna is crucial for sustainably managing these valuable species.
Where do FADs end up?
Our research, published in Environmental Research Communications and Scientific Reports, used a regional FAD tracking program and fishing data submitted by Pacific countries, in combination with numerical ocean models and simulations of virtual FADs, to work out how FADs travel on ocean currents during and after their use.
In general, FADs are first deployed by fishers in the eastern and central Pacific. They then drift west with the prevailing currents into the core industrial tropical tuna fishing zones along the equator.
We found equatorial countries such as Kiribati have a high number of FADs moving through their waters, with a significant amount washing up on their shores. Our research showed these high numbers are primarily due to the locations in which FADs are deployed by fishing companies.
In contrast, Tuvalu, which is situated on the edge of the equatorial current divergence zone, also sees a high density of FADs and beaching. But this appears to be an area that generally aggregates FADs regardless of where they are deployed.
Unsurprisingly, many FADs end up beaching in countries at the western edge of the core fishing grounds, having drifted from different areas of the Pacific as far away as Ecuador. This concentration in the west means reefs along the edge of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable, with currents apparently forcing FADs towards these coasts more than other countries in the region.
Overall, our studies estimate that between 1,500 and 2,200 FADs drifting through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean wash up on beaches each year. This is likely to be an underestimate, as the tracking devices on many FADs are remotely deactivated as they leave fishing zones.
Using computer simulations, we also found that a significant number of FADs are deployed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, left to drift so they have time to aggregate tuna, and subsequently fished on in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This complicates matters as the eastern Pacific is managed by an entirely different fishery Commission with its own set of fisheries management strategies and programmes.
Growing human populations and climate change are increasing pressure on small island nations. FAD fishing is very important to their economic and food security, allowing access to the wealth of the ocean’s abundance.
We need to safeguard these resources, with effective management around the number and location of FAD deployments, more research on their impact on tuna and bycatch populations, the use of biodegradable FADs, or effective recovery programs to remove old FADs from the ocean at the end of their slow journeys across the Pacific.
Tuna canning process.
Photo supplied by Palau’s MRNET.
of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET) have attracted at least
20 participants in a tuna canning training to take place Sept. 22 to 27.
The training will be hosted by the Bureau of Marine Resources (BMR) and led by FoodStream
Earlier, MNRET has requested the Parties
to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to provide tuna canning training for small and
medium enterprises (SME) in Palau citing that as the nation gets ready for the
full implementation of a national marine sanctuary by January 1, 2020.
“As we are
preparing for full implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary
(PNMS), a central aspect of our focus is to build capacity and options for a
domestic pelagic fishery. This includes approaches to improve the business
feasibility of small-scale, locally-owned and operated vessels and businesses,”
MNRET Minister Umiich Sengebau said in a June letter to Maurice
BrownjohnCommercial Manager of PNA Office.
Palau is also looking into options to promote “Palau to the tourism market
through its conservation approach to sustainable pelagic fisheries, through
such initiatives as the Choose Pelagics Presidential directive.”
He said Palau is
also exploring the potential promotion of Palau’s FADs-free zone through
Pacifical, and “through unique, locally produced souvenir jars and cans, or
‘Fish With A Story’
He said micro canning will help improve
food security and provide employment and business opportunities for Palauans at
the same time, providing tuna canning training for small and medium
enterprises (SME) in Palau.
“The training is
aimed at individuals who intend to produce canned foods on the micro or small
commercial scale. Participants will learn how to preserve tuna and other
pelagic fish, as well as other seafood, meats, fruits, and vegetables,” MNRET
public announcement said last month.
The 5-day training
will be delivered through lectures, tutorials, group discussions, and practical
sessions. Topics covered include Introduction to Canning; Pre-cooking Tuna in
Commercial Operations; Retort Systems and Container Handling; Packaging Systems
for Processed Foods; Microbiology of Canned Foods; Principles of Thermal
Processing; Retort Operation & Production Records; Water Chlorination and
Canning Sanitation; and Regulations relevant to Thermal Processing.
successfully complete the whole week of training and pass all exams will be
issued a Retort Supervisor’s Certificate.
training is looking for participants who can commit to the full week and pass
written exams and a practical exam. The course requires high school-level Math
and English skills.
company FoodStream has conducted tuna processing training in Fiji and Papua New
Guinea, Marshall Islands Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.
in the Pacific started four years ago, Brownjohn said. He said there are
volumes of “by-catch,” from tuna fishery although not suitable for large
commercial exports but can still be perfect to eat and can be canned locally.
He said jars could also be utilized to preserve food.
said the training provided by FoodStream is the same qualification as you were
trained in a reputable cannery in Thailand or somewhere else.
said in Palau, small scale canning is also a way to attract tourism.
tuna canning operation, “you are able to produce a shelf-stable product made
in Palau,” Brownjohn said.
is able to offer a jar, a fish, and a story behind it.”
THE 21st National Tuna Congress is happening on September 4-6, 2019 in General Santos City. The Theme for this year’s Congress: “The Tuna Industry: Embracing Technologies and Sustainable Strategies”. Why this Theme?
The choice of the Theme is anchored on sustainability supported by technologies. We all know that Sustainability of Tuna Resources is paramount to the fishing industry. It cannot be overemphasized that the sustainability of the ocean’s resources does not only rest on the shoulders of government. The same responsibility is likewise demanded of the private sector, especially the global players of the Tuna Industry, and the global fisheries advocates.
The Theme calls that sustainability can only be achieved if Conservation and Management Measures are dutifully observed, and international and regional agreements calling for preservation of species and recovery plans, are honoured.
Sustainability also means no overfishing. It means that we enable an environment for Tuna and Tuna-like species to spawn and propagate for another season of catch. The intention is not to deplete our resources.
On technology, the world is currently driven by technology. The fishing industry needs to keep up by continuously upgrading systems and processes to achieve full efficiency while being ocean-friendly.
For 2019, the SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII) welcomes its new President, Andrew Philip Yu. Outgoing President Joaquin T. Lu has served SFFAII for 8 years, starting in 2011. He also held the chairmanship of the National Tuna Congress for eight years.
President Lu’s accomplishments include: Active and dynamic Advocacy, Lobby Work, and Involvement in International and Regional Collaborations; Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws; and Implementation of the electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability System (eCDTS).
On the first, the country is a driven Member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Under his watch, the Philippines has been granted access to fish in the High Seas Pocket 1 (HSP1). This means that the country’s 36 fishing fleets can fish in the HSP1 of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This is a major breakthrough for the country. It may be recalled that for a time, the Philippines was no longer allowed to fish in Indonesia. The prohibition affected the Tuna Industry. The severity of the situation was felt in General Santos City, the home base of the Tuna Industry.
Under his leadership, the fishing industry was able to surmount the acute challenge. Of course, even as the Philippines is granted access to fish in the high seas, the country is duty bound to comply with international regulations, like the observance of conservation and management measures.
SFFAII also pushed for the Philippines’ inclusion in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. The high seas of the Indian Ocean and the Exclusive Economic Zones of member-coastal states are potential fishing grounds for Philippine purse-seine fishing vessels. Fishing in other fishing grounds will enable our own fishing grounds to recover.
SFFAII also pushes the promotion of ASEAN Tuna globally and branding it as a suitable and traceable-produced product. SFFAII supports the move to properly label the fishing industry and its allied industries’ products. However, it likewise urges that international certification be made affordable, yielding benefits not only to stakeholders, but also on marine ecosystems.
On Focused Partnership with National Government and Steadfast Observance and Compliance with Philippine Laws. For 20 years, SFFAII has hosted 20 Tuna Congresses. The Tuna Congress is now on its 21st year. The yearly Congress has become a venue for intense lobby efforts from among the active players and loyal stakeholders of the industry. The issues and concerns afflicting the industry are highlighted in the yearly Tuna Congress.
The yields of the past Tuna Congresses include the Formulation of a Policy governing Illegal, Unlawful, and Unregulated fishing practices; Finalization, Production, and Issuance of the Philippine Fishing Vessels Safety Rules and Regulations; 2018 National Tuna Management Plan which is aimed at establishing a sustainably-managed and equitably-allocated Tuna fisheries by 2026 and promoting responsible fishing practices and trade of Tuna products; Creation of National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council that serves as an advisory/recommendatory body to the Department of Agriculture in policy formulation; Reconstitution of the National Tuna Industry Council; Approval of the Handline Fishing Law and the amendment of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the said law; among others.
On Implementation of the eCDTS. In 2017, a major milestone for the Tuna Industry unfolded when SFFAII partnered with USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership and BFAR to develop and implement the eCDTS. The system, when operational, will trace the movement of seafood from “bait to plate”, all the way through to export markets like US, EU, and neighbouring ASEAN markets. General Santos City has been chosen as the pilot city. Now on its final year, we will see how this system will actually impact the fishing industry.
A low-cost satellite revolution is paving the way for real-time monitoring of fishing vessels using synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).
SAR allows researchers to monitor ‘dark vessels’ that aren’t transmitting Automatic Identification Signals (AIS) location data.
Disabling or manipulating AIS transmitters is a tactic commonly used by vessels engaged in illegal fishing activity.
The prospect of monitoring every vessel at sea in real-time has moved a step closer to reality as a new generation of surveillance satellites takes to the skies.
The satellites are being launched by a small number of private companies with the potential to transform the monitoring of marine fisheries. One of those companies is Capella Space, which will launch a constellation of 36 surveillance satellites into orbit starting in December, following successful trials with a pilot satellite.
Capella’s “minibar-sized satellites” are equipped with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) sensors, which ping signals down to Earth and use the information bouncing back to generate radar images. Though radar pictures lack the detail of optical images and cannot currently be used to identify specific vessels, they can detect the presence of any ship in the ocean, day or night, whatever the weather.
SAR’s greatest asset is that it can detect the presence of vessels that aren’t transmitting Automatic Identification Signals (AIS), so-called “dark ships”. Vessels weighing 300 gross tons or more are required to carry AIS transmitters, which broadcast a vessel’s name, country of origin, speed, and location. Crews engaging in illegal fishing activity often disable them or manipulate the data to give false coordinates.
“It’s hard to quantify how widespread this practice is, but I think it’s pretty widespread,” said Peter Horn, who leads the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project.
Paul Woods, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Global Fishing Watch, agrees. “There are a lot of vessels running around, particularly fishing vessels doing bad things, that don’t want to be tracked,” he said.
SAR is part of a suite of surveillance tools used by law enforcement agencies and environmental watchdogs, such as Skytruth, to check for the presence of “dark ships”. The technology is also widely used to identify oil spills and to observe changes in sea ice at the poles and forest cover in the Amazon.
Now, a new breed of satellites, which are 20 times lighter than their outdated predecessors and therefore easier and cheaper to launch, promises to greatly expand the capabilities of SAR surveillance.
Current drawbacks of SAR
SAR data are currently gathered by a handful of satellites, which are operated mainly by government agencies, such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), which gives its SAR data away for free. Airbus also has a SAR satellite system.
The problem with these satellites is that they provide an incomplete picture of the world’s oceans because there aren’t enough of them. What’s more, because they are large—about the size of a trash dumpster—and power-hungry, they typically operate where it is light to allow for solar charging.
“They only image a small portion of Earth every day,” said Woods. “So, we don’t have really good coverage of the oceans with SAR.”
Although environmental watchdogs and enforcement agencies can task SAR satellites to take images of particular places where they suspect illegal fishing is taking place, such requests are expensive and time-consuming. Orders have to be placed many hours in advance, either over the phone or via fax, and there is always the possibility that requests will be deprioritized if the military wants to task the satellite at the same time.
“It costs thousands of dollars to order an image, and we have to order it up to 72 hours in advance, because we have to wait for the satellite to get into position,” said Woods, highlighting SAR’s current shortcomings.
This latency is the reason SAR data is mainly used for long-term strategic planning, such as deciding where to send patrols, rather than in live situations. “The guy who is doing illegal fishing will do it for six hours and then disappear,” said John Allan, Business Development Consultant for Capella Space. “If you’ve got to wait 24 hours to get an image, that’s useless.”
The holy grail of real-time SAR
Capella claims its satellites will provide a much faster turnaround and that its customers will be able to order on-demand images online through an API. Inmarsat, a satellite telecommunications company, will then transmit the order to Capella’s nearest satellite in a matter of seconds.
“It will do to satellite tasking what Amazon did to retail,” Allan said. “We’re going to make it so easy for people to task the satellites.”
Capella’s network is due to be fully operational by 2022, though each satellite will start taking SAR images as soon as it is launched. When all 36 satellites are up, Allan said, the constellation will be able to provide a new image of a target every hour at the equator and even more frequently the closer you get to the poles. This is a significant step towards real-time SAR.