Feature Story

Innovative technologies strengthen the monitoring of fishing operations at sea

November 21, 2019

Tuna catch
In order to explore new ways to monitor tuna vessel operations, the GEF-funded Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) decided to trial the use of newly developed electronic monitoring (EM) systems in two different oceans and fisheries.

Trials carried out by the GEF-funded Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project explored the use of electronic monitoring systems to increase transparency

The desire to accelerate the exploration and adoption of innovative technologies to improve transparency, sustainability and efficiency in fisheries is greater than ever. By improving transparency, urgent threats such as illegal fishing or overfishing can be addressed, but using technology to collect information and observe fishing operations also has applications for science and research, as well as policy and management. It can even be used an alternative to, or complement, on-board fisheries observers. 

In order to explore new ways to monitor tuna vessel operations, the GEF-funded Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) decided to trial the use of newly developed electronic monitoring (EM) systems in two different oceans and fisheries. One trial took place in Ghana, led by partner organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with support from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), and the other in Fiji in partnership with the Fijian government. In 2015, equipment was deployed aboard the entire domestic purse seine fleet consisting of 14 vessels in Ghana, whereas in Fiji, 50 longline vessels from their domestic fleet were equipped.

“We chose to trial electronic monitoring in Ghana and Fiji for a number of reasons. For one, tuna is very important for the livelihoods of a lot of people related to the fisheries sector in both countries. Ghana has a sizeable purse seine fleet and at that time we started, Ghana had been given a yellow card by the EU due to concerns regarding compliance. In Fiji, industry had a keen interest in trialing this tool to improve its fishing operations and document best practices in order to secure and strengthen market access,” said Alejandro Anganuzzi, Global Coordinator of the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project at FAO.

The EM technology, based on high definition cameras, satellite geolocation, and vessel monitoring systems, is capable of producing exhaustive reports of a vessel’s fishing activity. With cameras placed in key positions, the systems can record operations both above and below deck, at all hours of the day. In both Ghana and Fiji, a team of land-based observers were trained to analyze footage and provide data estimates of the catch, bycatch and discards by species, as well as to identify any potential infractions happening onboard the vessels.

After having tested the equipment and monitored hundreds of fishing trips, results demonstrated that the installation of this type of technology is an effective way to expand the number of fishing trips currently monitored. It also became clear that EM can provide the transparency needed to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing with independently verifiable compliance data, and can successfully complement existing at-sea observer data collecting efforts. 

“Its benefits have been of immense importance to fisheries in Ghana: EMS has enhanced monitoring, control and surveillance capabilities within the Fisheries Commission, and has ensured the access of our products to the international market,” said the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Ghana, Francis K. E. Ato Codjoe.

“A lot has been learnt from this activity in terms of the possible benefits for the authorities and the companies by enhancing science, compliance and industry needs. At the same time, EM systems will assist us to promote our products more confidently since the recordings will provide evidences, when required, by the market,” said Anare Raiwalui, Executive Secretary of the Fiji Fishing Industry Association.

“The Fiji Fishing Industry Association was at the project's inception and has played a key role with authorities, having a keen interest in this tool’s potential in securing market access whilst ensuring safe and compliant fishing practices of the Fiji longline fishery. Fiji has taken a leading role in the use of EM as a tool for monitoring, control and surveillance, and has openly shared its experiences and lessons learnt within the region in anticipation of a region-wide EM-Program,” said Netani Tavaga, EM Coordinator at the Ministry of Fisheries in Fiji.

This trial process, which was finalized in 2019, has been one of the biggest initiatives of its kind and the use of EM systems in Fiji and Ghana is planned to continue with the support of key stakeholders. Business cases were developed to inform government and stakeholders on decisions to be made concerning the future of EM in these countries. These business cases provide a study of costs and benefits, estimated costs of maintaining a functioning EM-program, and proposals for cost-recovery to be considered by stakeholders. 

In a wider context, EM systems used in fisheries operations is gaining momentum. One example is the recent workshop on developing a Regional Longline Electronic Monitoring Policy for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean region, including the participation of delegates from 15 Pacific island countries, and regional organizations such as the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and Parties to the Nauro Agreement, as well as various NGOs. The workshop took place at FFA Headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands on 16-18 October 2019. 

“The Fiji EM program has contributed a lot to the developments of EM programs in the region especially in the developments of various electronic tools that supports EM in the region. This was possible from all the lessons learnt from the data produced from the trial, and the willingness of the Fisheries Ministry to share the knowledge to other member countries trying to develop their EM programme. I hope that Fiji will continue to do this in the future.” said Eparama Loganimoce, Regional EM Technical Coordinator, Pacific Community.

Learn more about trial activities and the recommendations made by the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project, WWF and ISSF, in terms of legislative changes and institutional arrangements needed to continue utilizing EM systems as an enforcement tool, here:

This story was originally posted on Exposure by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.