A new system is being developed that will help international authorities monitor illegal fishing on the high seas. “Catapult” is part of Project Eyes on the Seas, a joint effort between Pew Charitable Trust and Satellite Applications Catapult, to develop technology to help monitor fishing activity. The system will allow satellite tracking of vessels which can be detected through their automatic identification system (AIS)—which all ships over a certain size are obliged to carry.
“The big picture here is the capability to do large data analytics and to bring together all the sources that exist to get a full picture of what is happening out there on the ocean,” says Brad Soule, senior fisheries analyst at Catapult.
AIS was intended as a collision avoidance system and its use is required by the International Maritime Organisation. The signal emitted by the system from every vessel that carries it gives an identification tag, and details about direction and speed. Fishing vessels have traditionally been exempt from carrying AIS systems, as in the past a fishing boat’s position was regarded by owners as proprietary information.
But the European Union now insists on their use for fishing fleets and from next year, the US will also make their use mandatory. The signals emitted from these devices can be monitored by satellite and it is this that forms the basis of the Catapult system, which will allow an unprecedented breadth of oversight of precisely who is on the high seas and what they are doing there.
“Our goal will be to relay that to the people who can put that information to the best use,” says Soule.
“Very soon we will be signing a memorandum of understanding with the United Kingdom Space Agency, to implement its Catapult program,” says Heraldo Muñoz, the Chilean Foreign Minister. “The system will be implemented by the Chilean Navy.”
Chile’s coastline, nearly 6,500km long, presents a great challenge for authorities determined to stop illegal fishing. The government recently introduced regulations under which smaller vessels must carry a monitoring system so that, like the larger trawlers, they will be remotely identifiable. “This is a regulation that few countries in the world have put in place,” says Muñoz. “Through it, we are sending a very strong signal, indicating that Chile is combating [illegal] fishing on a national and international level.”
What happens when a vessel is spotted doing something illegal? Soule, a…