Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the greatest economic, social and environmental threats to the world’s oceans.1 The Southeast Pacific, a region especially dependent on fishing for economic security, has become one of the most unsustainably fished areas in the world, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has found.2 As demand for fish expands, IUU fishing threatens food security, ocean ecosystems and economic growth around the world3 and undermines port and maritime security.4

Identifying and tracking vessels is critical to monitor the extent of IUU fishing and enforce exclusive economic zone boundaries. Many fishing vessels and reefers (large refrigerated cargo vessels) possess Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceivers for navigation and safety purposes. Each AIS signal provides valuable data on the vessel’s location and movement. Most IUU fishing relies on transshipments, which is the practice of combining IUU loads with legally caught fish by transferring the illegal catch to reefers outside of territorial waters.5

For this edition of Maxar Spotlight, we examined the implications of IUU fishing, ideal fishing grounds and potential transshipment hot spots. Our experts used Maxar’s Insight Explorer and Crow’s Nest Maritime Monitoring and Security (MMS) solution to track vessels transmitting via AIS, to gain fish-catch insight, to detect vessels not transmitting via AIS and to identify vessels of interest using Maxar’s high-resolution satellite imagery.

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Sneak peek: excerpt from Maxar Spotlight, Vol. 33

The detection of transshipment activity is often thwarted by vessels that go “dark” by switching off their AIS transceivers to obscure their locations. Recent advancements in ship detection and surveillance technologies, such as Maxar’s Crow’s Nest MMS, are greatly enabling counter-IUU operations. By leveraging Maxar satellite imagery and machine learning (specifically, vessel behavior algorithms and automated object detection), Crow’s Nest MMS can spot when vessels exhibit transshipment behavior or when suspect vessels go dark. Using AIS data, near real-time SAR and electro-optical tipping and cueing, Crow’s Nest MMS can identify and track dark targets.

Suspected transshipment in the Pacific Ocean, Worldview-2, August 20, 2021.

1Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. The Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Index. 2019.

2Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. 2020.

3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. Understanding Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. ND.

4U.S. Department of State Office of Marine Conservation. Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. ND.

5Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Transshipment: a closer look. 2020.

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