A new report from the FISH-i Africa Task Force, ‘The Potential Use of AIS as a Fisheries Monitoring Tool’ examines the value of using automatic identification system (AIS) as part of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) operations. AISs are very high frequency (VHF) radio-based tools that support safe navigation and collision avoidance by automatically transferring information about the ship to other ships and coastal authorities. More recently AIS has been identified as a useful tool to contribute to fisheries enforcement efforts.
Although fishing vessels are exempted from an International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirement that vessels above 300gt and engaged in international voyages use AIS, some flag and coastal States do mandate the usage of AIS by fishing vessels flying their flag or operating in their waters. In addition, large numbers of fishing vessels use AIS voluntarily as an aid to navigation, and as an operational and safety tool.
AIS receivers have been placed on low-earth orbit satellites since 2008, which has greatly increased coverage and means that AIS signals can be detected from vessels operating beyond the 40nm range of land-based AIS receivers. There are some technological limitations to AIS, however providers are continuously taking steps to improve AIS performance, including the recent launch of more and improved satellites.
All of these factors have contributed to increasing the utility of AIS as a fisheries monitoring tool. Duncan Copeland of Trygg Mat Tracking, a specialist in AIS data analysis commented, “Like any other fisheries monitoring tool, AIS has advantages and disadvantages, and is most effective when used in combination with other intelligence sources. AIS is the least expensive vessel monitoring system capable of both near shore and high seas monitoring, and has the benefit of transparency, as data is unencrypted and can be received by anyone with the appropriate equipment. However, software and human analytical capacity is required to translate raw AIS data into usable intelligence and is an integral cost of using AIS.”
Since the formation of FISH-i Africa in 2012 routine monitoring of AIS data has triggered a number of investigations into illegal fishing in the Western Indian Ocean. These investigations have resulted in: the exposure of a fake licensing operation in Tanzania; highlighted repeated cases of illegal fishing in Somali waters; led to action against the JIN SHYANG YIH 666/668 tracked operating without the necessary authorisation from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC); and, in cases such as that of CHI HSIANG NO.7 and KARYA WIJAYA, the identification of vessels using false or shared identities.
Recognising the value of AIS and the need to maximise the impact of AIS as a tool to reduce illicit fishing activities is the key message. Coastal, flag and port States are recommended to require AIS use through, where possible, regionally harmonised, coastal, flag and port State measures (including as a licensing and registration requirement) and RFMO conservation and management measures.
Access and analysis of this AIS data for port to port tracking of foreign flagged fishing vessels coupled with systematic analysis, combined with VMS data when available, will help unlock the potential of AIS in support of MCS activities.
Concerns over maritime security and human trafficking are also proving to be a driver for the introduction of mandatory AIS in fishing vessels. In December 2017 the Agence Portuaire Maritime et Fluviale in Madagascar introduced new requirements for the use of AIS. Elsa Patria, Chair of Stop Illegal Fishing, welcomed the move, “The compulsory use of AIS by all motorized fishing vessels will greatly assist in the identification of vessels operating illegally. We hope that this new requirement will encourage fishing operators to operate within the law.”
Nicholas Ntheketha, Chair of FISH-i Africa, stated, “The wider compulsory use of AIS that we are seeing in the fisheries sector will not only help to promote safety at sea but also enable enforcement officials to better track and analyse the movements of fishing vessels, allow for better targeting of inspections and increase our overall knowledge of fishing activities.”