Pirate Fishers

Skadia Technologies works with fishermen who are hell bent on getting it right, the fishers who fish sustainably and report their catch correctly. They know its the best way to ensure the long-term profitability of the industry and keep consumers on-side.

But the ocean is a big place. Fishers doing the right thing are competing with pirate fishers who aren’t. These pirate fishermen don’t register with fisheries management organisations, switch off their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) to avoid detection and operate outside the rules. They fish cheap and mean, with no concern for the sustainability of target fish or the wasteful killing of bycatch species.

Government regulators and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations have the unenviable task of managing this problem across huge swathes of ocean. This is no easy job and these organisations often don’t have the resources to track what is happening in their patch.

Albatrosses help map the problem

Recently the awesome flying and hunting skills of albatrosses have been used to better understand the extent of the problem. Researchers fitted 169 albatrosses with sensors that could detect a vessels radar from 30kms away. This information was then used by researchers to confirm if the vessel’s Automatic Identification System was on or off at the time.

The albatrosses in the study ranged across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Albatrosses can fly a hundred thousand kilometres on a foraging trip and are purpose built to cover large ocean areas to find food. These birds home in on fishing boats because they provide the easiest source of food, particularly when setting hooks, hauling a net or releasing offal.

Albatrosses attacking bait, Pacific Ocean

Albatrosses and petrels attracted to offal discharge behind a boat in the Pacific Ocean

Time to act

This research found that in international waters a staggering 37% of vessels had their AIS switched off. Even inside national Exclusive Economic Zones 26% had their AIS switched off. Make no mistake, a skipper switches off the AIS for one reason – to avoid detection when illegal or unreported fishing is taking place.

These are alarming numbers, particularly for legitimate fishers. It’s their competition. These pirates are doing it cheaper, dirtier and outside the rules, and in large numbers. It’s time for governments and RFMOs to act on this issue to ensure the best possible catch and incentives for those fishermen who are doing the right thing, and to exclude and penalise those who aren’t.

For all fishers, Skadia provides great tech that makes it easier to fish sustainably and by the rules.

Link to the research: https://www.pnas.org/content/117/6/3006