New technologies promise monitoring breakthrough for transhipment at sea

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry Newsvolume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

Technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, onboard electronic catch monitoring and blockchain traceability continue to gain attention as tools for monitoring industry activity related to the fishing sector. 

Government and inter-governmental bodies (e.g. the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre), as well as the private sector and NGOs [non-government organisations], have developed and deployed these methods and are experimenting with next-generation approaches. 

In general, these tools aim to develop methods for monitoring elements of the fishing supply chain that are generally outside of the view and reach of authorities.*

Recent months saw a new tool in this realm join the ranks of new technological and data-based initiatives to contribute to progress in management – this one focusing on transhipment at sea. 

The tool – the Carrier Vessel Portal – was developed through a collaboration between two NGOs, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Global Fishing Watch (GFW). The partners describe Carrier Vessel Portal as the world’s first public, global searchable monitoring portal of carrier vessels. 

The portal is based on GFW work that combines satellite data on vessel location (AIS data that cargo ships are mandated to keep on board by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) and machine learning to study global transhipment patterns. The portal is public and searchable and includes vessel identity and authorisation status.

The developers hope that regulators, policy makers and researchers will utilise the portal directly for the monitoring and enforcement of transhipping. 

In releasing the portal, GFW and Pew have emphasised the multiple purposes it can serve, including: 

  • verifying carrier vessel activity
  • identifying suspicious or illicit behaviour
  • tracking vessel activity between RFMOs
  • and ideally, guiding reform.

In addition to the Carrier Vessel Portal, GFW has developed a range of tools and analyses to monitor the location and activity of fishing vessels, and is working to develop partnerships that will enable such tools to be used directly in the management sphere. (GFW has a list of papers published on its findings.)

Monitoring transhipment at sea has been a high priority for management in the WCPO, given it is estimated that more than US$142 million worth of tuna and other seafood products are lost in illegal transhipment annually, and missing and fraudulent reporting undermines management efforts and scientific data that is used to understand population dynamics and to inform management decisions. 

However, transhipment at sea has proved remarkably difficult to monitor, making regulations difficult to enforce. Generally, transhipment data are reported from governments to RFMOs, usually in summary form and often a year after the data are collected in-country. It has been demonstrated that official reports are often incomplete and thousands of transhipments on the high seas are unreported.

* For more on the use of electronic monitoring and blockchain technology, read the following: