Skylight’s Ted Schmitt: Technology can turn the tide of the war on IUU fishing


Perpetrators of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are beginning to feel the heat of satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence solutions, according to Ted Schmitt, director of conservation and Skylight program manager at Allen, based in Allen. Seattle, Washington, USA. Institute for AI (AI2). The institute, created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, operates Skylight, a free technology platform using maritime surveillance, analysis software, computer vision and machine learning to “deploy patterns that can reveal suspicious activity in real time”. according to AI2.

Skylight is also working with satellite imagery from Sentinel 1, a constellation of polar-orbiting satellites operated by the European Space Agency, enabling it to “go from capturing 1% of the ocean once a month to 17 % of the ocean twice a month.” Using this technology, Skylight can survey in eight hours what would take 800 hours to cover.

Skylight works with developing nations, but also with naval law enforcement agencies globally, including the US Coast Guard. He recently joined the Joint Analytical Cell, a new collaboration to give low-income coastal states better access to fisheries intelligence, data analysis and capacity building assistance in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing .

In an interview with SeafoodSource, Schmitt said rapid advances in computer and satellite technology are starting to pay off in the fight against illegal fishing.

SeafoodSource: Can you share any practical examples or incidents where your monitoring services have been used to track IUU fishing and/or help coastal states lead a successful response?

Schmitt: In the Western Indian Ocean, fisheries monitoring centers use Skylight to identify, track and document vessels fishing in restricted areas. In a recent case, surveillance teams in a sensitive coastal area identified several vessels illegally trawling shrimp. Analysts took screenshots of the ship’s tracks as evidence, supplemented by the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) [data] illegal activity. The threat of penalties in the event of a repeat offense has so far been enough to observe vessels respecting restricted areas.

In West Africa, Skylight supports a national parks agency protecting a network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Prior to implementing Skylight in its operations, the agency used VMS. This gave them great insight into the movements of their national fleet, but was not designed to track foreign vessels that might attempt to fish in these protected areas.

Today, each time a vessel enters one of these MPAs, the platform is set up to alert [relevant] maritime analysts. In such a case, a foreign vessel was identified entering a restricted MPA and the team took immediate action to prevent the vessel from fishing in the protected area. To further support these agencies’ efforts to tackle the IUU fishing crisis and better understand what is happening in their waters, Skylight continues to develop methods to detect suspicious behavior, including leveraging satellite imagery to detect vessels that do not transmit their position. Most recently, this includes vessel detection from the Sentinel-1 satellite radar, while additional sources are expected to become available on the Skylight platform within the next two months.

SeafoodSource: Do you have any indications that perpetrators of IUU activities are changing their behavior as a result of enhanced surveillance?

Schmitt: [Recent] ship behaviors would indicate yes. We notice that vessels stop transmitting their position through vessel tracking systems such as Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) to evade detection near protected or restricted areas such as Marine Protected Areas or Economic Zones. exclusive. We also notice sophisticated methods such as AIS spoofing or jamming, resulting in incorrect or missing AIS data. This suspicious behavior is probably related to illegal activity. This, of course, means we need to up our game… to detect “dark” ships, [by using] satellite imagery such as Sentinel-1 [and other] sophisticated computer vision techniques.

SeafoodSource: Do you think Skylight monitoring can help improve seafood market traceability efforts at the point of entry into major seafood markets?

Schmitt: Yes, one of the best tools to keep stolen fish out of major seafood markets is the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA). To add teeth to this policy, countries and NGOs use Skylight to identify suspicious activity, such as highlighting potential transshipment events for port authorities implementing PSMA measures.

An example of this in action is how Stop illegal fishing (SIF) uses Skylight to help its partner, the South African State Security Agency, to combat IUU fishing. Skylight’s advanced machine learning algorithm alerted SIF to dark rendezvous leading to fishing vessel Torng Tay #1 application for entry to Durban, [South Africa] Port. When the SIF team of analysts took a closer look at the vessel’s history, they found that the fishing vessel had been prowling for almost four hours, enough time for the vessel to transport fish to or from another vessel. While most cases of transhipment at sea are legal, this practice may conceal IUU fishing practices. During an inspection by South African authorities, it was found that the fishing vessel had under-declared the quantity of fish on board to the government. The fishing vessel was fined by South African authorities. If the country catches the ship Torng Tay #1 fishing illegally again, the vessel will then be again fined 10 times the original fine.

Photo courtesy of University of Washington

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