Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing (IUUF) has an alarming impact

The environmental and human costs of unsustainable activities in the blue economy are laid bare in our latest intelligence review, which rounds up news on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond during the month of September. This serious issue has an obvious impact on fish stocks and sustainability, as well as the livelihoods of decent fishers. But the effects can go wider: we were alarmed to learn that in Mexico, illegal fishers have nearly driven the vaquita porpoise to extinction. Just 10 vaquitas are known to survive, after the population was devastated by poachers’ use of gillnets – which drown the mammals.

The human cost, too, extends beyond the fishing community. A new paper from the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – an alliance of 14 world leaders and the UN – makes alarming reading, finding that illegal activities at sea include organised crime, fraud, money laundering, corruption and even human trafficking. Thankfully, countries are embracing new technologies to help lead the fight against illegal fishing and associated crimes. Our new white paper, Emerging Technologies and their Application in Fisheries Management, sets out nine areas of development and some of their practical uses. Our latest intelligence review only adds more colour to this picture.

Many emerging technologies are driven by an explosive growth in computing power, which has enabled countries like Indonesia to better coordinate separate agencies involved in the battle against illegal fishing. A new Maritime Information Centre, launched in July, is blending data from separate Indonesian ministries and agencies, helping law enforcement agencies to identify and intercept illegal fishers. This new capability had a dramatic real-world test recently, when a high-speed boat chase ended in a shoot-out before the Indonesian Coast Guard boarded a Vietnamese vessel and seized an illegal catch.

Vietnam itself is working with expanded computing capabilities to try to prevent Vietnamese-flagged vessels illegally fishing in foreign waters. The government has ordered 28 coastal prefectures to make better use of data, including from vessel monitoring systems, to track Vietnamese vessels. An increasingly widespread adoption of satellite communications means vessels can be contacted and warned if they stray close to foreign waters – a key step in the country’s campaign to restore its fishers’ reputation, following complaints and warnings from the EU about the industry’s sustainability.

It’s heartening to see countries working with big data and new technology to intensify the fight against IUU fishing. We in Verumar know that the Philippines, in particular, has much to teach other countries about the adoption of emerging technologies. A recent ‘hackathon’ event, held by the campaign group Oceana and the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, has shown some promising examples of innovation, ranging from a battery-operated ‘Parrotfish’ autonomous boat tracker, to a mobile app that can track and analyse fishing vessels’ activities.

Even allowing for these exciting innovations, one story jumps out at us as an example of a very human effort to tackle IUU fishing. Evelyn Malicay, a woman from the central Philippines island of Siquijor, has been risking her life by challenging illegal fishers who have wrecked the country’s precious coral reefs and plundered fish stocks in marine protected areas (MPA). Speaking in a new documentary about women who are fighting the illegal trade, she says: “I will catch anyone who violates the MPA. What they do not know is I am always on watch.”

And so are we. Our solutions might be different, but we are proud to stand alongside people, like Evelyn, who are determined to make sure the Philippines’ marine resources are protected for the benefit of everyone who depends upon them.