MCS   (2014-03-13)

IUU project receives global award and recognition

San Jose, Costa Rica - RFLP hosted under FAO recently won a global award for innovation when it came to their strategy for combating illegal fishing. One of the project outcomes was to build a working relationship between artisanal fishers and government agencies.

Basically the deal was the government has agreed to pay for and loan personal locator beacons to artisanal fishers to improve their safety at sea and in exchange for this improved safety, the fishers have agreed to use the devices to anonymously report illegal fishing activity in their area to the relevant state authorities in real time.

This project was originally developed in Aceh as one project within a larger strategy to rebuild fisheries damaged by the December 26, 2004 tsunami. There were a large number of meetings involving governmental agencies, academic institutions with the traditional fishing authorities, the Panglima Laot. During these meetings many different problems and issues were discussed. Below are just a few examples of issues brought up by fishers that helped to form this illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) strategy:

If fishers have radios they are usually VHF radios which typically have a range of only about 20 miles, but even if fishers had radios that could reach the shore they would not turn in other boats for fear of being overheard on the radio. It was further explained that foreign boats frequently had guns onboard and used them if necessary to intimidate local fishers.

If fishers waited until they returned to port to report the illegal fishing, it would be several days or even a week later by which time the illegal fishing boat would very likely be gone.

The devices: The SPOT© tracker is a personal locator beacon widely available in the consumer electronics market. It consists on a hand-held tracking device that automatically transmits its position every 15 minutes in near real time via satellite. A history of reported positions can be viewed by those back at home through a website. These devices are usually marketed to outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers or adventurers for their families to monitor their progress and so the hikers have the means to call for help should they get into trouble.

Repurposing the buttons:
Originally, the SPOT© tracker has 2 buttons. SOS / 911: To be used in the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of the GPS location and that the person needs assistance.

Help: In the event of a non-life threatening emergency, the person can use this function to notify his/her personal contacts that he/she needs assistance.

For the purposes of this Community based IUU reporting system, the first button retains its original functionality. If fishers are in an emergency situation, they press the 911 button which immediately sends out an emergency distress signal and the boat’s exact location through the same network as the EPIRB emergency systems used by western boats. The international monitoring centre then sends SMS messages to the cellular phones of the head of the Maritime Police and the head of the Fisheries Inspection Department. At the same time the civil aviation authority would be notified that a boat was in distress at that location and the national authorities would be notified by telephone.

In addition to the immediate benefit of increased surveillance, the staff of the Fisheries Department can easily create maps that can help predict when and where illegal fishing will occur. Furthermore, using the tracks of fishers, the Fisheries Department can locate and map the fishing grounds, the fishing patterns of legal fishers in order to support the development of larger fisheries management plans.

Data of the reports is stored in databases identifying IUU fishing hot spots. Below an aerial photograph of a boat operating illegally in Timor-Leste waters taken after receiving a report from the southern sea.