Illegal fishing in the age of global GPS: governments talk whilst making little use of available technology

Conversations on the subject of illegal fishing tend to gravitate around regions of the world that are known poaching black spots (be it the historically fertile and vulnerable waters of West Africa, the tuna-rich waters of the Indian ocean or the South-Western Atlantic and its lucrative banks of tooth-fish).

Despite the deserved attention that those marine spaces are paid, it is worth remembering that the curse of illegal fishing also takes place much closer to home. Though European waters are (theoretically at least) amongst the better controlled marine regions in the world, it seems that a shocking amount of illegal activity takes place here too, right under our noses.

This week, a newspaper in Malta has highlighted that illegal fishing activity by large fishing trawlers has been more or less commonplace in the protected marine reserve that surrounds the island in recent years (see link below).

Apparently, Maltan authorities have been able to identify poaching activity by various means, but it looks like some key discoveries were down to the deployment of a simple and affordable surveillance tool: AIS. Whilst I am sure that they must have invested in other systems of detection, I can’t help wondering why they didn’t start using AIS before, since it is affordable and easy to use. Vessel crews can switch off their ship’s AIS, but it looks like they didn’t even bother doing this during their illegal incursions into the marine reserve.

Given that fisheries resources around the world are on their metaphorical knees, coastal nations should be watching their seas like hawks. And why are the flag States of the vessels doing the poaching not calling them to task as soon as they cross the line into a protected marine area or the border of an EEZ where they don’t have permission to fish? In the age of global GPS, satellite surveillance and smart-phones, it is increasingly difficult to believe that lack of technological resources is the real problem.