The AIS tracks of a Japanese longliner reveal fishing across jurisdictional boundaries in both international and national waters during 2015-16. (Credit: Daniel Dunn, Duke Univ.)


DURHAM, N.C. -- Using automatic identification systems (AIS) data to track the movements of fishing boats in international waters could help to improve governance and monitor illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing there, a Duke University-led analysis finds.

By monitoring the locations and durations of the boats’ fishing activities, the paper’s authors argue that satellite-enabled AIS can identify governance gaps, increase coordination among management organizations, and improve enforcement of a proposed UN treaty on biodiversity conservation in waters beyond national jurisdiction.

The UN General Assembly is expected to begin negotiations of the proposed treaty this September.

“Fishing catches in international waters jumped tenfold during the second half of the last century,” said Daniel C. Dunn, assistant research professor in the Marine Geospatial Analysis Lab at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “They have since plateaued but fishing activity in these waters continues to increase in quantity and complexity. We need new tools to support coordinated governance across regions and sectors.”

Satellite AIS could help close the regulatory gaps if the UN treaty requires its use on fishing boats operating more than 200 miles offshore, Dunn said.

Because these fisheries fall outside the national jurisdiction of any single country, they typically are managed collectively by multi-national regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). However, fisheries management organizations differ in their capacity to undertake monitoring, control and surveillance of the fisheries they govern.     

“With fishing boats operating across RFMO jurisdictional boundaries, the monitoring of fisheries is only as good as the weakest link in the governance chain,” Dunn said. “Communication between RFMOs is critical.”

“The standardized use of AIS tracking in all regions and fisheries would level the playing field and provide a common operational awareness of fishing activities,” Dunn said. “By providing access to AIS tracking, tools like Global Fishing Watch and Project Eyes on the Seas can contribute to technology transfer and capacity development under the new treaty.”  

Dunn and his colleagues at Global Fishing Watch, the University of California Santa Barbara, Dalhousie University and IUCN published their peer-reviewed commentary last month in the open-access journal Ghoti.

In their paper, they present three case studies documenting how the use of AIS can help identify and resolve regulatory gaps in areas beyond national jurisdiction; how it can enable closer monitoring of large or remote marine protected areas; and how could spur increased cooperation and technology transfer between RFMOs.

Dunn’s co-authors on the new paper were Carolina Jablonicky and Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California Santa Barbara; David A. Kroodsma of Global Fishing Watch; Kristina Boerder of the University of Halifax; Kristina M. Gjerde of the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme; and Guillermo O. Crespo and Patrick N. Halpin of Duke.

Funding came from the Nippon Foundation/Nereus Program and the Benioff Ocean Initiative. 

CITATION: "Empowering High Seas Governance with Satellite Vessel Tracking Data,” Daniel C. Dunn, Caroline Jablonicky, Guillermo O. Crespo, Douglas J. McCauley, David A. Kroodsma, Kristina Boerder, Kristina M. Gjerrde and Patrick N. Halpin; Ghoti, April 19, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/faf.12285  

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