The marine fisheries of many developing countries, which stand as a critical source of food and income for coastal communities, are under threat from illegal foreign fishing vessels that take advantage of the rich ocean resources that lie far from prying eyes. Illegal fishing damages livelihoods, the economy and the marine biodiversity of affected countries. However, advances in technology are offering new solutions to countries struggling to protect their oceans as the world begins to look toward drones to help combat illegal fishing in developing countries to reduce poverty and boost economic growth.
Illegal Fishing in Developing Countries
Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) are the areas of the ocean belonging to coastal countries. These large swathes of the ocean hold a multitude of opportunities to facilitate economic development. However, many countries do not have the resources or the capacity to monitor their EEZs, let alone fully utilize them. The costs of obtaining and maintaining fleets of coast guard vessels are extremely high and many countries have only a handful of vessels to cover the entire extent of their EEZ.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs developing counties billions of dollars. Companies involved in these practices originate from countries such as China, Colombia and Spain.
In the fight against illegal fishing, countries are looking to technological innovations to provide faster, cheaper and more accessible methods of monitoring EEZs. Advances in technology are providing ways for countries to monitor illegal vessel activities in their EEZs not from the sea but from the sky.
Drones Provide Eyes in the Sky
Drones or unmanned vehicles (UMV) provide “eyes in the sky” for coast guards and fisheries organizations attempting to detect and prosecute illegal fishing vessels. The most significant benefit of drones is that the device can collect photographic, video and radar evidence of illegal vessels fishing in EEZs without the major resource requirements of sending a vessel out to make an arrest. Authorities can then use this as evidence for prosecution later.
The FishGuard Project
The Republic of Seychelles is one of the first countries to embrace this new technology and hopes to use drones to fight illegal fishing in the new program FishGuard.
The island nation of Seychelles is responsible for an enormous EEZ of almost 1.4 million square kilometers. The rich ocean resources of its EEZ have attracted hordes of illegal fishing vessels, including European fishing fleets targeting tuna and fleets from Sri Lanka targeting sharks.
Over the past 30 years, “illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing led to an over 60[%] decline in the main fish stocks, resulting in loss of livelihood and revenue for the majority of Seychellois fisherfolk,” according to a 2020 research paper by Malshini Senaratne. About 17% of the Seychelles’ population depends on the fisheries sector to derive an income.
ATLAN Space developed FishGuard, a technology startup creating drones with artificial intelligence. It hopes to aid Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the fight against illegal fishing by providing low-cost intelligent technological solutions. ATLAN Space has provided Seychelles with drones to monitor marine areas, particularly the fishing hotspots. Each drone can cover 10,000 square kilometers. ATLAN Space will train the Seychelles Air Force to operate the drones while the coast guard will provide the vessels from which to launch the drones.
As part of the FishGuard partnership, a Norwegian analytical organization called Trygg Mat Tracking will provide fisheries with intelligence and analysis services and Grid-Arendal will provide Earth observation data. ATLAS Space has received funding from National Geographic for this pilot program. It plans to use the technology to combat terrestrial environmental threats such as illegal mining and deforestation.
For now, the Republic of Seychelles hopes that the drones will aid in the endeavor to keep its oceans safe from poachers of the sea. Maintaining legal licensing processes will provide the island nation with a critical and reliable source of income and will allow more effective management and protection of its vulnerable marine ecosystems. By combating illegal fishing in developing countries, the world can safeguard the livelihoods of the vulnerable people who depend on fishing as a means of income.
– Amy McAlpine