Written By Katy Seto, Nereus Program Fellow

Twenty six million tons of seafood, worth $23 billion is illegally caught, unregulated and unreported every year. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, this is a “huge threat to all efforts to bolster sustainable fishing in the world’s oceans.” Recent reports have also revealed illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing to be more rampant than previously thought, with more than 85% of global fish stocks at significant risk of illicit fishing activity.

With 90% of global fish stocks assessed as fully or overfished, the ecological and economic losses associated with IUU fishing are the topics of urgent fisheries policy conversations. To this end, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goal 14 addressing “Life Below Water”(SDG14): “By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices.” Furthermore, in June 2016, the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) came into force, creating the first-ever binding international treaty focusing on illicit fishing activities.

Japan has one of the largest stakes in ensuring seafood sustainability into the future. It is the third largest market state for seafood imports, and the fifth largest producer of marine-caught seafood. Japanese fish consumption per capita is triple the global average. Considering the importance of seafood in the country, Japan has increasingly played a leading role in regional efforts to conserve fish stocks, most recently driving efforts for strong conservation measures in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Japan is also in the middle of a significant domestic fisheries reform process under the Regulatory Reform Promotion Council, which began last year. Reforms will address seafood traceability and combatting illicit fishing activities. Considering their substantial role in both the supply and demand of global seafood, Japan’s political leadership on these issues is an essential part of tackling IUU fishing.

The Nereus Program and University of Wollongong’s Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) collaborated with the Japanese Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA) and Global


Fishing Watch (GFW) to co-host an expert technical workshop titled “Fisheries, Data and Satellite Technology: Innovations to Counter IUU Fishing”1. Over the three-day workshop, technical experts discussed cutting-edge technologies and their current and potential applications in addressing IUU fishing. For example, Chris Elvidge, of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, demonstrated the potential to use Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS, which can collects visible and infrared images and radiometric measurements of the oceans, to monitor light fishing in remote offshore areas.

Research by Jaeyoon Park, Nate Miller, and Katherine Seto suggested that remotely sensed Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) vessel data (which is a vessel tracking system that can include a vessel’s identification, position, course, and speed) might be used to track global fleet movements, identify transshipment, and assist regional fisheries management organizations and governments in identifying illicit fishing activities. Seafood products are some of the mostly highly traded commodities on earth, and global fisheries based far offshore are notoriously hard to monitor and enforce. Emerging technologies that use remotely sensed data to highlight these activities give managers a greater ability to monitor global fisheries and assess transparency and sustainability. The research presented by Japanese agencies and partners at the technical workshop represented some of the most advanced remote sensing technologies, with immense promise in tackling IUU fishing.

Following the technical workshop, a collaboration of Japanese organizations including WWF Japan, Seafood Legacy, Sailors for the Sea, Greenpeace Japan, Ocean Outcomes, Traffic, and the Nature Conservancy held a public seminar with members of the press, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and members of the public. Experts presented early findings and answered questions about how this work could inform fisheries policy and management. Masanori Miyahara, President of FRA, announced the initiation of an exciting cooperative agreement between FRA, ANCORS, and GFW to continue this exchange of research and training across the Pacific. The agreement will allow all parties to apply cutting-edge technologies to solving problems in fisheries management and sustainability, ultimately feeding into current policy reforms within Japan, regionally, and internationally.

1.) Experts from within FRA, the Japanese Fisheries Agency (JFA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Japan Fisheries Information Service Center (JAFIC), ANCORS, Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and GFW were in attendance.

Edited by Victoria Pinheiro, Nereus Program Strategic Communications Lead