It takes a village: Global fisheries gathering highlights importance of cooperation and data sharing

by Peter Griffin | 22 August 2023 | News

WWF's Bubba Cook speaks at the Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop in Halifax

An international gathering of fisheries enforcement experts in Halifax, Nova Scotia has highlighted the importance of regional and global cooperation, data sharing, and a pragmatic approach to employing new technology.

That’s according to Pacific-based representatives who attended the Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop, which was held 30 July – 4 August, the first meet-up since 2021, when the pandemic led organisers to hold a virtual conference.

The workshop’s focus was on monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) efforts designed to ensure long-term sustainable management of fisheries and the reduction of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“What really stood out for us is the importance of regional cooperation and partnership. The FFA is 44 years old, so we’ve come a long way in this space and have been able to share our experiences with the international MCS community,” says Allan Rahari, Director of Fisheries Operations Division at the Forum Fisheries Agency.

Rahari and his Pacific-based colleagues showcased work underway around developing risk assessments and analysis of data to flag fisheries-related issues of concern to the region. FFA participation in the meeting of the International MCS Network was supported through the agencies Oceanic Fisheries Management Project which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Marshall Islands work in the spotlight

“There were some really interesting discussions on transshipment, which is the transfer of fishing catch between vessels,” Rahari says.

“One of our members, the Republic of Marshall Islands, talked about some of their experiences around transshipment, particularly at the Port of Majuro, which is the largest transshipment port in the Pacific Island region.”

Indeed, at a ceremony in Halifax, the work of the Marshall Islands’ Oceanic Division fisheries officers and the monitoring, control and surveillance systems they have put in place for the tuna industry, was recognised with a special award.

“It was great to see the Marshall Islands recognised for their work,” says Rahari.

“We were also able to share some of our experiences, particularly from Kiribati and Fiji, on the work that’s been done in the MCS space when it comes to coastal and community fisheries.”

For World Wildlife Fund’s Alfred ‘Bubba’ Cook, the Halifax meeting was a reminder of the need for close collaboration between nations and regions, reflecting the interconnected nature of the world’s fisheries.

“As with many things, it takes a village,” says Cook, the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF, and a veteran of fisheries management and conservation programmes.

“It’s going to take everyone working together to address this because if illegal fishing is squeezed out of one region, it just moves somewhere else. So it requires a sustained effort from parties around the world to truly address it.”

A presentation from an Iceland delegate served as a reminder to workshop attendees that setting and enforcing policies can be a simple but effective method to tackling IUU fishing activity.

“This was in regards to the use of automated identification systems (AIS) on board the vessels that operate in Iceland,” Cook explains.

“If vessels turn off their AIS, a rescue team is sent as soon as it goes off. If it is turned off deliberately, the vessel’s operator is prosecuted for doing so. In some respects, these solutions, technically and policy-wise, are simple,” says Cook.

Cutting through the AI hype

Workshop sessions on innovative uses of technology highlighted the growing importance of satellite remote sensing technology to observe fishing vessel activity, as well as increased data sharing to better inform MCS activities.

“Rather than keeping data in silos, where it’s really difficult for countries to access, making that information more available and more accessible to others who are interested in helping to address IUU fishing is really important. So I think that’s probably one of the most important things that came out of that meeting,” says Cook.

While technology is evolving quickly and aiding greatly in aiding MCS activities worldwide, Cook said there was a refreshing back-to-basics approach to the technology in the spotlight at the moment – artificial intelligence.

“One of the sessions basically walked back the enthusiasm around AI and all of the buzz around ChatGPT and said, what is artificial intelligence? Let’s start there. That was really important,” he says.

“We should be taking a more pragmatic and more measured approach to looking at what it actually is, what it can do and what it can deliver in a fisheries context.”

But Cook ultimately sees a growing role for use of AI and machine learning in fisheries management as capacity to support the technology improves.

“ AI is potentially a force multiplier that allows fisheries officers to focus more on the work that actually needs to be delivered on the water as opposed to sifting through data to see relationships within that data that might indicate IUU activity.