Traceability standards, technology and CDS by Francisco Blaha

I promised that I would slowly will digest and post parts of our CDS publication to bring some of the key elements to the table, here is the 3rd post.

 IoF: The Internet of Fish

IoF: The Internet of Fish

Although our book describes how CDS and national traceability systems should interact, technical aspects such as the programming languages of telecommunications platforms and the international e-business standards that may be used are not explored in depth.

But of course, it is important that CDS and national traceability systems that liaise with them should be aligned with international e-business standards such as the one developed by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). This global body for the exchange of electronic business information has developed specific agri-food sector standards that are endorsed by governments and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the WorldCustoms Organisation and FAO. The UN/CEFACT standards are available at nocharge from its website.

Two of the examples in this paper are aligned with the UN/CEFACT standards – the New Zealand e-Cert (see Box 1 in the book) and the EU Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) systems (see Box 6 in the book). A further example applicable to many elements of a CDS is the EU Fisheries Language for Universal eXchange FLUX standard – a data logging and exchange system based on the UN/CEFACT “schema” system that complements its Core Component Library. The schemas can be used for all data exchanges and processes in the Universal eXchange standard, and the Core Component Library is used to harmonize data to be exchanged and published. The advantage is compatibility with other standardization projects where fishery data can be requested from sectors such as customs, trade and food, and animal traceability (UNNExT, 2016).

The structure of CDS traceability systems must be standardised to facilitate interoperability. For this purpose the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has produced ISO 12875:2011 which specifies how traded fishery products are to be identified and the information to be generated and held by the food businesses that trade the products through supply chains. The standard deals with distribution of finfish and their products for human consumption, from catch to retailers and caterers, but it does not cover data migration from one stage to another.

Similarly GS1 is a vendor-neutral not-for-profit organization that develops freely available standards for global use. It has developed standards for electronic data sharing – GS1 EANCOM and GS1 XML – and the 2015 GS1 Foundation for Fish, Seafood and Aquaculture Traceability Implementation Guideline.

There is currently no off-the-shelf software for traceability tasks in a CDS. Such products exist for private-sector operators, but no ready-to-use systems are available for state-level users. Countries that are developing their own applications on the basis of existing systems and traceability standards should consider the standards outlined by UN/CEFACT for developing their systems.

What about blockchain?
I posted recently about this, and repeat here something we wrote: "Blockchain technology may eventually eliminate the need for central registries, and is therefore likely to reduce the complexity and cost of transnational traceability systems. Current compliance functions enforced through a CDS central registry will remain in place to identify fraudulent transactions in blockchain systems and environments. The difference between a central registry and a blockchain approach to CDS data is a matter of form, not function."


“Dollars for disaster” a good interview on Subsidies by Francisco Blaha

Is not very often that I concur with Daniel Pauly's views (not that he would be ever need to worry about that!) but I have followed Dr Rashid Sumalia’s work on subsidies with interest for years. In this really interesting article by Oceana both talk about the origin an impact of subsidies in fisheries. And as you all know I hate subsidies, get rid of them and increase transparency along the value chain from licensing to consumer and we will have fisheries for a long time. In fact, I think they are worst than IUU fishing, or at least part of its cuase.

 Yeah... f*ck subsidies... but I vote the one that gets me cheaper diesel

Yeah... f*ck subsidies... but I vote the one that gets me cheaper diesel

Anyway, I quote here what are in my opinion the most interest parts of the article, yet (as always) refer to the original.

Why do subsidies exist in the first place? 
Pauly: Fisheries subsidies have a different origin than agricultural subsidies. In France and in England, fisheries have been traditionally subsidized, beginning as early as three centuries ago, because these two countries wanted to maintain a number of operational fishers that could crew warships. These subsidies were part of the defense budget. 
Sumaila: Subsidies made sense when most of the world’s fish stocks were underexploited. In the 1950s and 1960s, the more subsidies a government gave, the more catch it got back. For many countries, that’s not the case anymore.

How do subsidies spur overfishing?
Rashid Sumaila: In theory, fisheries should be self-regulating. When fish stocks get too low, or fishing gets too expensive, workers and investments should move out of the fishery. But in practice, unprofitable fleets can continue fishing — and can even grow larger — when they receive government subsidies. The problem is enormous. In a 2015 study, my group at the University of British Columbia estimated that global fishing subsidies in 2009 were $35 billion, between 30 and 40 percent of the total value earned by marine fisheries worldwide. As a result of this artificial profit-boosting, and general mismanagement, the global fishing fleet is about twice the size the ocean can sustainably support. 

Note by me: I explain how subsidies induce overfishing in this graph here

Why don’t countries get rid of harmful subsidies? 
Pauly: The issue is that the first country to stop will be at a competitive disadvantage. The fish that they sell will become comparatively more expensive. And if other countries don’t follow up immediately, the first country will not be able to sell its seafood.
Some countries say they have gotten rid of subsidies, but figuring out whether this is true is tricky. We have discovered that Australia, one of the countries which claim to have gotten rid of subsidies, now gives them under different names.

Can fishing subsidies ever be beneficial?
Sumaila: Subsidies can be divided into three broad categories. The first category, capacity enhancing subsidies, is what promotes overfishing. The second, ambiguous subsidies, can either promote positive or negative outcomes, depending on how they are implemented. And the third category, the beneficial category, supports research and management. If you have a good management system, for example, you can detect illegal fishers and catch them.
Pauly: I can think of a scenario where you have fishers landing fish on the beach, throwing the fish in the sand, and later smoking them using procedures that waste fuel wood. You get a very bad product all the way from the landing and processing to the sale. Subsidies applied here could improve the product quality post-harvest. Thus, subsidies could finance concrete tables to display the fish, and well-designed smoking chimneys that make efficient use of fuel. This would make a great difference in increasing incomes.
Sumaila: The issue is that very few subsidies are of the beneficial sort. Nearly 60 percent of the global total goes to harmful subsidies like ship fuel. Instead of giving away subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing, keep the money in the community. Use that money to upgrade the catch, rather than destroy the resource by intensifying overfishing.

What can be done?
Sumaila: One of the things we could do practically is take the top-subsidizing countries — there are a maybe a dozen — and then create cadres in these countries of biologists, economists and other thought-leaders to help their government really see how bad this is, and push through action. Sometimes it’s better to tackle global issues on a global stage, but sometimes one person in one country does something, and then that becomes something global.
Pauly: The irony about subsidies is that they contradict the spirit of capitalism. We can get support for getting rid of them. And then you might get a breakthrough at the WTO. Whether it happens through the WTO, or through multilateral arrangement, it is possible that subsidies could at least decline.

The types of states in a CDS by Francisco Blaha

I promised that I would slowly will digest and post parts of our CDS publication to bring some of the key elements to the table, here is the 2nd post.

 Standardised supply chain: CTEs and State control

Standardised supply chain: CTEs and State control

One of key issues we found when talking about CDS is a limited understanding of the “roles” of each type of state in the CDS picture in particular, but also in the MCS in general. Since country-specific mechanisms are often essential for verifying and corroborating submitted data, enhancing monitoring functions and identifying and sanctioning fraudulent transactions. (And is also a good proxy on why a "single country CDS" would hardly ever have a substantial impact on multi-state value chains)

The state types involved in fishing, landing, processing and trade of fisheries products along the supply chain are “fixed” and each type of state carries out functions that contribute to the success of the CDS:

Flag state. This is the state whose flag is flown by fishing vessels, whose activities it is obliged to authorize and to monitor under international law. In international fisheries targeting species under the management of an RFMO, flag states also have reporting obligations to the international body as to the activities and catches of their fleet(s). Oversight by the flag state covers harvesting, transhipment and landing operations, the latter typically regarded as the last transaction related to fishing. The flag state is crucial in a CDS in that it validates catch certificates for catches harvested during fishing trips deemed by the flag state to have been conducted legally.

Coastal state. This is the state in whose waters a fishing operation may be taking place, in which case the coastal state must provide the necessary oversight to ensure that foreign vessels entering its waters are authorized to operate, and report operations and catches to relevant coastal state authorities. Coastal states currently have no statutory role in existing unilateral and multilateral CDS.

Port state. This is the state in whose port(s) fish are landed. The port state has a legal obligation under the PSMA to ensure that only legal fish are landed by carrying out rigorous in-port inspections of vessels flying a flag other than that of the port state and voluntarily entering its ports to land fish. The port state is crucial in ensuring that catch to be landed from a CDS-managed fishery are covered by valid catch certificates at the time of landing.

Processing state. This is the state in which raw products are converted into semiprocessed products or end products. The processing state may be the same as the port state, but fisheries products for processing may enter the processing state by sea, air or land. Processing states are important in CDS systems in terms of ensuring that non-certified fishery products are not imported, processed or certified for export or re-export. The “laundering” of fisheries products into legally certified supply streams occurs mostly at this level.

End-market state. This is the territory in which final consumer products are placed on the market, acquired by customers and consumed, often after importation. In a CDS the action of the end-market state is limited to ensuring that non-certified products cannot gain access to its consumer markets – a crucial final element in guaranteeing the success of a CDS.

The illustration above shows a standardized supply chain with the segments covered or controlled by the various state types. It is clear that few operations or CTEs (Critical Tracking Events) along the supply chain are under the exclusive purview of a single state type and that a large number of operations fall under the purview of different state types along the supply chain. The flag state, for example, will (or at least should!) oversee transhipments and landings, but so will the port state when these do take place in a port, and sometimes the coastal state is involved in oversight of transhipments in its EEZ.

Yet is really important to understand, that a single country can act as a few or as all of the state types at once, and at different levels of involvement.

In the Tuna world, a country like PNG for example, is at once a important flag, coastal, port and processing state, and in a lesser level a market state. Countries like Nauru or Tukelau are only coastal states, Thailand is the ultimate example of a processing state, Taiwan and China (even if it brings some fish back to its ports) are examples of major flag states, finally the EU and the US, that dependes substantially on imports, are major End-Market States, even if they have their own fleet, ports and processors.

This multiplicity of roles is important, since from the seafood traded internationally; 61% originates in developing countries and 85% of it is destined for developed countries. The current internationally integrated seafood value chains show that for most products many different administrations may be involved from catch to consumer.


Nature and function of a CDS (Catch Documentation Scheme) by Francisco Blaha

I promised that I would slowly will digest and post parts of our CDS publication to bring some of the key elements to the table, here is the first one.

 the simplest explanation of a CDS (page 12 of our book)

the simplest explanation of a CDS (page 12 of our book)

In the our experience there is some confusion as to the nature of a CDS, its objective and its core function. There is in fact no internationally agreed definition of CDS, and the diverse terminology used to designate a CDS such as CDS, catch certification system, catch documentation and traceability system and bluefin catch document scheme further confuses the matter because the terms suggest that the underlying systems may also differ with regard to design, objective and function. It is therefore important to posit at the start the object, remit and core function of a CDS.

CDS objective. The objectives of the three multilateral CDS are not clarified in the CMMs that establish them, though it is evident that they aim to prevent IUU fishing. The EU, however, clearly states that the objective of the CDS is to deny IUU-derived products access to its markets, thereby contributing to the goal of eliminating IUU fishing.

CDS remit. All current CDS apply to the entire supply chain of international trade, from harvesting, landing and processing to importing products into end markets. To achieve this they all have a system of data acquisition, storage, certification and documentation in place.

CDS core function. The CDS mode of operation is to identify a unit of legally harvested seafood, to certify that it is of legal origin, and then to track it through the supply chain – which may be highly complex – to the end market.

By allowing only legally certified fish to be landed, processed and traded, the supply chain is in practice fenced off from illegally harvested fish. The core objective of the CDS is hence to prevent the entry of “laundered” IUU fish into the supply chain. The challenge – and the criterion for success – is not in keeping legal fish in the supply chain, but in keeping IUU fish out (see illustrartion). Traceability is central in the implementation of this CDS function.

If IUU-derived products are denied market access by a CDS, their prices decline rapidly, the financial incentives are eroded and IUU fishing diminishes as a result. To achieve this, market access must be denied to IUU-derived products at every stage along the supply chain.

A CDS is hence not something that ends with the certification of catches by flag states. Catch certification is in fact only the start. Coastal states may wish to confirm that flag state certification of catches made in their EEZ is valid, port states must ensure that non-certified products are not landed, and market states must ensure that noncertified products are not imported, processed, sold or re-exported.

In a CDS, legality is established at the first step – harvesting. Preventing “laundering” is the objective of the system at all subsequent stages.

International Women’s Day 2018 (and their undervalued role in our industry) by Francisco Blaha

I been vocal in the past the unique role and perspectives that Women bring to fisheries, and about my personal experiences working for a woman captain in a factory vessel, to the many managers (like today's PSM project). A while ago I posted about a questionnaire on the issue, by the Woman In Seafood group, the report is out and make for sobering reading.

At a global scale woman represent 50% of all seafood workers including 90% of all seafood-processing workers. Yet only 9% of woman are in managerial roles and over the past 12 months across the 20 conferences analysed out of a total of 820 speakers, only 20% were women…

And is not that you have to give them a space or job because they are woman, but rather because they are good what the do, and as I said they are there, here in the pacific alone on the top of my head I could name:  the chair of the WCPFC, the compliance manager, the tuna management advisor, the heads of two long lining companies are all incredible capable woman at the tope of their game.

As a I said before, I’m not coming into this issue from a “new age” approach but from a fairness approach and just from general attitude of pointing out what is wrong, assuming any fault of my own that contributed to it and help fixing it.

My friend and college Katrina Nakamura (another very incredible capable woman in seafood) finish her mails with a phrase by Francis Picabia: "Our heads are round so that our thoughts can turn." Hence if you have not done much about by ignorance or position, start changing that.

What can one do about it… well a lot… just by raising awareness is a best start, and bring the concept in your decision-making. I’m just a consultant, but for example I don't participate a speaker in conferences anymore if they don't have more female presenters that in the last edition.

Men and women occupy distinct roles all along the seafood value chain and regardless of location or level of industry development country, female workers are consistently over-represented in low skill, low paid, low valued positions and remain mostly absent at the other end of the value chain. The distribution of power and profit between the two sexes is uneven.

Women are a key resource shaping and contributing to the seafood industry, yet they remain noticeably absent from public discourse, research and industry development initiatives. Women in our industry are effectively rendered invisible and undervalued by decision takers and policy makers

So read the report, spread it around and do something about it… simple as that. Because at the end of the day, you would not be reading this if it wasn't for a woman when your life started.


The problem with comparisons about fishing impacts in the media by Francisco Blaha

Recently I posted about a paper on the global footprint of fisheries, based on AIS. Albeit an interesting read on the use of the technology, I was taken aback on some of the comparisons made in the website of origin. Yet I had not the time to elaborate much on them, but someone that is good at that is Ray Hilborn, so I quote some of his responses to the claims.


Study state that vessels are now fishing in 55% of the world’s oceans, which is an area four times larger than occupied by onshore agriculture. The immediate popular conclusion was that this shows immense overfishing, and Oceana was quoted saying “That means we’re putting more pressure on fish populations.”

Hilborn says “The comparison to agriculture fails to note that the 50 million square kilometers under agriculture have destroyed the natural ecosystem as the plow or new pasture eliminates the native plants. The areas fished, particularly for tunas, have changed very little.”

Furthermore,  “Fishing does not impact the primary production (plants), and in very few cases does it impact the species that graze on the primary producers.  So the 50 million square kilometers of the earths’ surface that is used for agriculture is totally transformed,  most of the oceans that are being fished (high seas tuna)  have some changes in top predators abundance. 

 “High seas fishing for tuna, which constitutes the majority of the “footprint” shown in the Science paper has been mapped for 40 years, and the widespread nature of high seas tuna fishing is well known.  The footprint of bottom trawlers has been mapped in much finer scale already in many places, and the Science paper overestimates the proportion of the seabed impacted by trawls by 10 fold.”

The AIS data is interesting, and allows for specific types of research that was not possible before.  However, the dataset does not give as accurate a picture of global fishing as does the comprehensive database on fish stock surveys and catch records.

Hilborn is a longtime collaborator with Dr. Boris Worm, one of the authors of the paper.  Together they did a groundbreaking study of global fisheries databases, and helped create a standard dataset to measure fisheries catches and stock health.  Neither Worm nor the other authors are claiming that the AIS study shows increased fishing pressure on stocks, they are simply reporting that the tracking data provides a new visualization tool for global fisheries.

Now in my opinion, while these comparisons have the advantages of (sometimes) putting things in perspective against each other, they feel a bit like a "my dick is bigger (or in this case smaller) than yours" and I'm never sure how conductive to change this is. By the fact of living we are impacting nature... nothing grows under our houses, roads, schools, etc... We all have to make constantly more compromises, and this is not going to change as long as we live.


Does unreported catch lead to overfishing? by Francisco Blaha

Is not the most know fact that the key element of IUU fishing in our region is not the Illegal fishing (as vessels without a license) but is Unreported (which is either; under-reporting – declaring less from what the caught, and/or miss - reporting declaring different species from what was caught). Besides the economic impact of unreporting, there are downstream consequences since you will never take the right management decisions with the wrong data.

 verifying reporting the hard way... one by one in the Solomons

verifying reporting the hard way... one by one in the Solomons

One area that I always assumed that would be immediately benefit for totally accurate reporting is stock assessment and modelling, since it would immediately impact the outcomes of the assessment, yet this recent "Fish and Fisheries" paper by Merrill B Rudd & Trevor A Branch somehow challenges that concept, to refocus it on the trends more than the actual figures. While I think in principle this paper was a response to the recent drive into catch reconstructions, I like the concept of the trend focus. It makes me think… and I like thinking.

Below is the abstract, but as always read the original!

Catches are commonly misreported in many fisheries worldwide, resulting in inaccurate data that hinder our ability to assess population status and manage fisheries sustainably.
Under-reported catch is generally perceived to lead to overfishing, and hence, catch reconstructions are increasingly used to account for sectors that may be unreliably reported, including illegal harvest, recreational and subsistence fisheries, and discards.
However, improved monitoring and/or catch reconstructions only aid in the first step of a fisheries management plan: collecting data to make inferences on stock status. Misreported catch impacts estimates of population parameters, which in turn influences management decisions, but the pattern and degree of these impacts are not necessarily intuitive.
We conducted a simulation study to test the effect of different patterns of catch misreporting on estimated fishery status and recommended catches. If, for example, 50% of all fishery catches are consistently unreported, estimates of population size and sustainable yield will be 50% lower, but estimates of current exploitation rate and fishery status will be unbiased. As a result, constant under- or overreporting of catches results in recommended catches that are sustainable.
However, when there are trends in catch reporting over time, the estimates of important parameters are inaccurate, generally leading to underutilization when reporting rates improve, and overfishing when reporting rates degrade. Thus, while quantifying total catch is necessary for understanding the impact of fisheries on businesses, communities and ecosystems, detecting trends in reporting rates is more important for estimating fishery status and setting sustainable catches into the future.



The 2018 FFA / SPC Regional Port Monitoring Workshop by Francisco Blaha

I’m back to work and it could not be a better start. Quite a few people has been working hard on setting up a framework for Port State Measures (PSM) along the membership of FFA and SPC, but we are trying to do in a methodical and data driven way. Normally countries rush into stuff and then try to sort it out, well this time under the good leadership of my friend and colleague Pam Maru, they want to sort it out first and then walk into it.

 my home and flatmates for this week

my home and flatmates for this week

Is no news that PSM are an effective way of addressing IUU fishing and are generally focussed on determining vessel compliance with applicable conservation and management measures and laws, through port inspection regimes, since unfortunately we cannot trust always flags state as the first responsible for the conduct of its vessels.

Furthermore, the linkage of PSM’s with other port based activities that monitor and verify fishing vessel catches is a key step for effective CDS and in that way securing market access.

Technological advancements provide FFA members the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of their MCS arrangements and address some of the capacity issues faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS). However, assistance is needed to better define how emerging technologies can be used to advance MCS capabilities.

FFA is implementing a five year project funded by the New Zealand Government aimed at strengthening FFA member PSM’s with the objective of ‘Reduced IUU fishing in the Pacific through cooperative monitoring, control and surveillance programmes’.

The project recognises the need for intensive national work to develop and deliver instruments and tools that will enable FFA members to enhance their PSM’s. This will also provide the necessary frameworks for members to participate in information sharing and MCS activities regionally and internationally, and to better combat IUU fishing.

I’m doing this work with my colleage Damian Johnson a former NZ fisheries inspector, whom I work alredy in the past in the Pacific and Thailand. We are expected to deliver in four tasks are to be delivered within the timeframes outlined as follows:

Task 1
Review all current port based activities and programmes (legal, fisheries management, MCS or otherwise), in each FFA member country, relating to PSM and CDS. This should provide a baseline on which to further enhance both PSM and CDS.

Task 2
Develop a framework for port state measures that identifies the minimum MCS programme requirements to implement effective port state measures, in the context of Pacific tuna fisheries managed by FFA members.

Task 3
To compile all relevant market state requirements, including the identification of data and certification requirements, determine if these requirements are met within existing regional information management capacity and provide recommendations to strengthen port based activities to support these requirements.

Task 4
Develop an IUU risk/compliance assessment criteria for port state measures, taking in to account the IPOA-IUU, FFA vessel compliance index, WCPFC MCS programme requirements and other relevant considerations. This work must support port based vessel inspections and CDS functions.

So more than interesting and busy times ahead. Personally this stuff is at the core of my work over the last few years (PSM and CDS). In fact in the book we recently wrote we put a lot of attention on PSM, and I quote: “The port is the point at which fisheries products move from the seaborne to the land-based supply chain. Few other points are as important for a CDS”, and “It is largely the quality of port state monitoring and the work of its port-based fisheries officers that determine the risk of illegally sourced fish entering the land-based supply chain”

Hence a good start to the (already full)  2018 agenda!

Tracking the Global Footprint of Fisheries by Francisco Blaha

To tackle a study on global footprint of fisheries is quite a task, and to release the dataset to open public access is unprecedented. I have discussed before the limitations of AIS as a compliance tool, but is definitively a good visualization and transparency tool. The recent paper published in Science and the future analysis that could be done form the data set is quite something. AIS is definitively here to stay as fisheries tool.


Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 5.14.14 PM.png

I quote below from the Global Fishing Watch release.

Executive Summary

Humans have been fishing the seas for over 42,000 years and fishing is one of the most widespread means by which humans harvest natural resources. However, fishing’s global footprint – that is, its spatial and temporal patterns, and extent – was poorly understood and unquantified, until now. “Tracking the Global Footprint in Fisheries,” a new paper published in Science, presents a comprehensive, high-resolution map of global fisheries for the first time. 

The study, produced by Global Fishing Watch in collaboration with research partners at University of California Santa Barbara, National Geographic Pristine Seas, SkyTruth, Dalhousie University, Stanford University, and Google depicts global fisheries with an unprecedented resolution.

Below are links to learn more about their findings.

This new dataset is possible because of new technology and creative use of data sources. Over 22 billion Automated Identification System (AIS) messages were processed and the researchers identified more than 70,000 seagoing vessels – including >75 percent of industrial fishing vessels larger than 36m – over a five-year period (2012 to 2016). Over the span of the study, these vessels engaged in 40 million hours of fishing activity, consumed 20 billion kilowatt hours of energy, and covered a combined track length of 460 million km, a distance equal to traveling to the moon and back 600 times.

Results revealed that fishing extends over at least 55 percent of the ocean – covering almost four times more of the Earth’s surface than agriculture. The absolute footprint of fishing is much larger than that of other forms of food production, even though capture fisheries provide only 1.2 percent of global caloric production for human food consumption. Five flag states – China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea – accounted for over 85 percent of observed fishing effort on the high seas. 


Surprisingly, results also suggested that fishing activity is more closely tied to cultural and political events, like holidays and fishing regulations, than naturally-occurring events, like El Niño or fish migrations. In China, there is a significant decline in fishing during the annual fishing moratorium and the Chinese New Year. In the northern hemisphere, fishing activity declines over the weekend and breaks for Christmas.

Longline fishing in the open ocean for species such as tuna, shark and billfish, was the most widespread type of fishing globally, detected in 45 percent of the ocean. Longliners also had the greatest average trip length between anchorage, with the longest at 7,100 km. 

Results also demonstrated that significant regions of the ocean are not heavily fished, and these areas may offer opportunities for low-cost marine conservation, creating ‘buffer zones’ which conservationists say help marine species to regenerate. 

The data used to create this report and power the Global Fishing Watch fishing activity map is now available for download via the Global Fishing Watch Research Accelerator Program. The researchers hope that this data provides the tools for scientists, advocates, governments, journalists and citizens to better understand and therefore better protect their oceans. The data is also available through Google Earth Engine.



Is blockchain such a silver bullet? by Francisco Blaha

Lots and lots of talk in the media about the potential of blockchain to solve issues from IUU fishing to forced labour and so on. I personally think that such a hype, typical from media that does not fully grasp the complexities around IUU fishing and forced labour (or even blockchain!) is not really conductive and as any hype, could be detrimental to the cause in the long term.

 the tool does not replace the MCS job, it just makes the results transparent and verifiable.

the tool does not replace the MCS job, it just makes the results transparent and verifiable.

I don't like the present hype because it puts too much pressure on one example of very good use of technology, but is not more than that.... IUU and forced labour issues are multifaceted and involve a lot of jurisdictions, socioeconomic and political aspects. Pining the solutions, on one data architecture tool is really unfair and risks hyper-inflating the expectations on what that technology can offer, and then people walking away because it does not deliver on the hype that was built around it. 

There plenty of explanations of what blockchain is, the way I see it is basically a digital ledger that is distributed, decentralised, verifiable and irreversible, so their records can’t be changed once in (but you still have to record it!) is a mechanism that can be used to record transactions of almost anything and where “ownership / responsibility” needs to be accounted for. 

I don't see limitations on the technology (blockchain) but rather on the political will to implement a system based on any technology available. Blockchain just offer some advances over other technologies to set up a Catch Documentation Scheme, which if implemented and set up the right way, involving the full set of MCS tools and catch accountancy requirements at flag, coastal, port, processing and end market states (read this book to know what you need how is to be done ☺) does has the chance to control IUU, but is a system that need to be adopted / imposed / sanctioned along the value chain by RFMOs, witch at the present are toothless tigers, in respect to compliance.

The willingness of any player in the seafood value chain to be part of any system that add transparency is based on the perceived economic benefits arising from its use and/or the fear of regulatory consequences of its "not use" (assuming the government agencies responsible have the mandate, willingness and capacity to enforce the rules)

Which  development tool (block chain, relational databases, etc) to use, is an interesting discussion, but the key point in my view, if "how" the tool is going to be imposed. 

Some players (like the system my friends set up in Fiji) can see the use of such a system as way to make better earnings and position themselves as the ethical operators they are, and see benefits along their customer base. But the company down the road (literally) has a very profitable and established market somewhere else that does not require any form of ethical assurances... so where is their incentive to use the system? (Which as I said is independent of the tool)

Now, if Fiji or any other country was to legislate that such as system is required by law for any trade and exports, that in principle is great... but no doubt will increase costs to the Fijian operators whom in turn would may not be able to recover it from the clients. Since your have other countries that produce the same fish and have not even thought about institutionalising such a transparency tool and they will be more competitive than Fijian producers are.

And here, is for me the key issue, we have not formalised the incentives system by which the ethical and legal operators are rewarded and the non ethical are punished by consumers* and regulators... and that is not going to be changed by any App or traceability tool (Independent of type of programming tool its used) implemented voluntarily by some operators or institutionalised only by some countries, while the competitor operators or countries (or the DWFN fishing on them) do not take part. 

Any flow takes the path of less resistance, fisheries is no different. Until there is a global commitment to value chain transparency tools like Catch Documentation Schemes (based on any technologies) we are just tinkering along the sides, by providing transparency to the value chain of responsible operators (who in reality did not needed them in the first place - otherwise they would have not volunteered to be part of the pilot project) we are showing it is possible, but we are not solving the issue.

Don't get me wrong, is great that systems like the one form my friends in Fiji works along the established value chain they have, because it shows that the system are able to produce results, and I’m sure it would work in another value chains like canned and loined tuna in the Solomons Islands, since they are also well regulated and run by very ethical operators. Yet these operators have never been the problem, is the rest of the sector that needs transparency... and that as any other transnational crime setup needs a combined and global effort, otherwise there would be always backdoors that can be used.

As my friend Gilles Hosch said: “With CDS we have developed a market-based tool to effectively tackle a range of severe forms of IUU fishing. Whether the collective will to adopt and expand these systems exists, is a different matter.”

*The whole argument that the ethical consumer will reward the good practices and transparency with a price plus, maybe real for part of the 29% of the world population the earns more than 10 USD a day, unfortunately my life experience has shown me that "ethics" is a very shifty ground... but then, I have grown up and spent a significant part of my life being part of the 71% that lived below that threshold.

Training on Science and Media by Francisco Blaha

A almost constant in my life is that I have started working or getting involved in area and then later on did some studies on it. I got into blogging because the template in which I developed my website had a blog page and a picture gallery so I just started to add content, but there is more to that.

 Media training in for science in action

Media training in for science in action

A couple of times I have run into trouble for the contents of my blog posts, because I’m quite honest (candid?) about my limitations, issues and problems and I instinctively pass this attitude to of some of the issues we face in fishing. I fell like if I put them “on the table”, it means that I recognise them and I’m in control of what I need to do.

Other people see this as portraying your failures, and those who run a different agenda can use this info against you.… and I understand those sensitivities, yet I still think that total honesty and transparency about my failures is the best road to take, since you take the power “off” your critics and place it under what you are doing to change.

Yet being “out there” and having opinions (like the ones in this blog)  exposes you to the media… and as anything you do, it has advantages and disadvantages. Hence how to deal with media requires some training, and that is an opportunity I never had… until today, here at the University of Auckland.

A month ago I applied for one of the 12 places at the Science Media SAVVY workshop of the New Zealand Science Media Centre*, and luckily I was chosen to participate.

This is a two-day workshop designed to encourage effective media engagement, build skills and confidence, and enable scientists to navigate a range of media encounters with success.

More than basic media training, this course has been built from the ground up to meet the needs of scientists and researchers. It offer practical exercises to help researchers explain complex ideas clearly, introduce tools and strategies for connecting with new audiences, all while providing feedback and support from fellow researchers.

The workshop also offers a unique chance to make valuable media contacts and gain first -hand insight into news media practices during an invited journalists’ panel and newsroom tour. New skills are then put to the test with the chance to pitch research stories directly to interested reporters.

Their programme says that:
Researchers on the SAVVY course will:
  • gain insight into what works for media
  • work out compelling ways to explain tough concepts
  • learn to be enthusiastic without losing credibility
  • improve their on-camera presence with simulated TV interviews
  • get advice on handling risk and controversy
  • practice saying what they really mean to under pressure
  • learn how scientists can use social media to their advantage

And so far so good! I’m leaning a lot and interacting with people that are way clever than me. Issues around how to structure the message and how to deal with media, body language, editorial keywords not only from the perspective of my opinion being sought, but also from the content I’m creating.

is a delicate balance, and one I'm sure I don't always get right. But then, if would not have takes risk over my life, I will still piling hake boxes in the hold of a rusty trawler in Argentina. I hope i can use this training to improve on this blog. Watch the space


*The  Science Media Centre is an independent, publicly - funded resource for New Zealand  scientists and journalists covering science -related issues. their aim is to promote accurate, evidence - based reporting on science and research by helping the media work more closely with the scientific community.


On being a Mentor for Fishackathon 2018. by Francisco Blaha

Back in the days when I was on boats, I was seen kind a "big" nerd (almost 2 m tall ex rower and swimmer), because I was always tinkering with tech gear (very basic on those days) on board, then later on the research vessels got the chance to meet the fisheries science and oceanographic nerds (normally much smaller than me). We thinker around statistical modelling, echo sounder setups - calibration and also using and adapting existing gear to get most data we needed. Only many years later (and a massive tech step forward), I got to be involved with people developing Apps for fisheries data collection. I always enjoyed expanding the range of people being interested in Fisheries.

 not your usual fisheries meeting 

not your usual fisheries meeting 

Well this weekend my fisher/nerd interphase take a step further, since I been asked to mentor in the Fishackathon 2018.

The Fishackathon is a global hackathon dedicated to developing tools and apps to help make our planet’s waters, aquaculture, and fisheries more sustainable and equitable. On February 10-11, thousands of world-class technologists will work (usually through the night!) within an extremely short time frame to produce innovative prototypes that address real-world problems sourced by partners and governments. HackerNest is the volunteer-run nonprofit that the U.S. Department of State has partnered with to produce the 2018 series.

This is an even happening in quite a lot of cities, read more here about the Fishackathon host cities.

What does mentor do in this event?
Mentors help to guide and advise participants leading up to (sporadically, via**) and at the hackathon (6+ hours spread over two days). As a subject-matter experts (most developers aren’t familiar with the fishing) we may have scientists, academics, designers, technologists, business mentors, and others to provide  support to teams by sharing their insights, experience, and feedback. This helps to ensure that teams are building projects that are both relevant and useful.

What is my take about it?
Well... some of the challenges presented are a bit wishi washi in my opinion… I'm always a bit afraid to sound to cynical or arrogant in my criticism of initiatives. Is not based on any form of malice, is only that I been a log time in this game and I’ve seen very good intended initiatives being ripped apart (by those not interested in having transparency and new tools in the fishery) based on their inapplicability or lack of technical consistency, instead of being evaluated for the potential outcomes.

I see a lot of big words and really “open ended” outcomes on the presented challenges.

I personally see Apps as very practical tools to do a well-delimited job, and some of these challenges are in my opinion, way too ambitious for one tool to be developed in two days… but there have been proposed by some “BIG” names (EJF, MSC, Global Fishing Watch, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and so on)

I also presented as an individual (without the backing of any institution) a challenge for tool, a Boarding and Inspection Officers Support App. My request is a very straight tool that help inspectors in the Pacific to their job: a Android based App for a tablet, that using 3G or 4G network could be able to tap into a IAS based platform for the WCPFC authorised vessels, and support the following functions:

  1. Via a simple interface, allow the boarding officer to input the vessel’s ID elements and a limited range of dates (i.e max 60 days) for the App to provide track of that vessel during those days plotted over a google map (or earth) platform.
  2. Once the vessel data is graphically plotted; have a function that allow the boarding officer to manually enter a position he sees in the logsheet or log book and the App "mounts" the position entered manually "over" the AIS track of the vessel to see if there is coincidence
  3. If the App could then identify any vessels that were in close contact (0.5 nautical miles or 1 km) with the inspected vessels over the period plotted and provide estimated positions and dates, that would be an amazing source of information to investigate potential unauthorised transhipments, or at sea bunkering.

Such an App would allow the boarding officer to note substantial differences in between the information provided to him and an independent source of information. If notable differences are noted, it could temporally deny port use (along the tenants of PSMA) and refer back to the fisheries office to initiate for solid investigations and evidence gathering. The result of a deeper investigation, could either authorise port use, or lead to a prosecution

As your see,my one is practical tool, presented by just one guy, hence it has no much "glamour" or "fancy words" around it, so I guess I understand why wasn't selected. (Get in touch with me, if you want the full proposal, tho)

Anyway, lets see, how the next couple of days go, is always good to know new people that can bring new perspectives (that hopefully work) into fisheries


The impact of the EU IUU Regulation on seafood trade flows. by Francisco Blaha

There is no secret that I am a constructive critic of the EU IUU Catch Certification Scheme, while at the same time I have specialised in helping countries to deal with it and get off Yellow cards (particularly in the pacific). Yet I have repeated many times that my criticism was not a the principle (which is great!) but at the poor design of the implementing tool, the catch certification itself.

 where every catch cert should start.

where every catch cert should start.

Since its implementation there are many things that I have criticised, but the key one was the lack of centralised electronic database, working on the same principles than TRACES, the one the EU already have for heath certification. Some of the higher masters in MARE did not took well my criticism to the point of complaining to FAO for my inclusion on the CDS expert consultation (thankfully FAO backed me up)

The carding system (yellow, red) was never part of the regulation itself, but rather a football analogy (in rugby with a yellow card you leave the field for 10 minutes), yet has been the most visible outcome of the IUU Reg, and no doubts the "name and shame approach" has pushed many countries into action, and that has been a good thing.

Only recently some NGOs have started digging into the “effectiveness” of the CCS and come up with some reports that in many ways support with their own data the criticisms that some of us were vocal about.

Here is the latest: The impact of the EU IUU Regulation on seafood trade flows: Identification of intra-EU shifts in import trends related to the catch certification scheme and third country carding process.

I leave it up to you to read, but it confirms things some of us have said for years: with no centralized database the system will always be ineffective, and if you one border gets to “tough” send it to the country next door… and so on.

Or in the report own words:

The future EU-wide database of CC information, currently being developed by the European Commission, presents further opportunities for strategic trade monitoring. Once complete, this would allow additional information (e.g. on flag States of origin and processing countries) to be cross-referenced against data in Eurostat, to aid interpretation of trends. Together, these datasets could present a powerful tool to identify trade anomalies or discrepancies indicative of IUU fishing activities.
Trade analysis can also confirm suspected shifts in the origin and destination of imports resulting from border controls and the carding process. This was seen for the reflagging of Sri Lankan vessels to the Maldives following the Sri Lankan import ban, and the diversion of swordfish imports to Portugal following increased verifications in Spain.

Friends, tunas and Blockchain in Fiji by Francisco Blaha

Plenty of info in the news lately on the combined efforts of 3 friends from different times in my life that got together in one project and created a blockchain based traceability structure for tuna  caught, process and exported by one company in Fiji.

 Unloading in Fiji

Unloading in Fiji

This is good news since is sui generis system developed by good people that have their skin in the game. The boat/company owner is Brett ‘Blu” Haywood from SeaQuest, whom I have know for over 10 years now. Then is the fish techy, Ken Katafono from TraseAble, who until very recently was the IT boss at FFA, he is a really nice guy and is in this game for the long term, and the is Bubba Cook also a friend that is behind a lot of good work in the tuna world from his job at WWF.

Here is a good explanation of the operational side of the system

The pilot they got involved got things right by testing it in well-managed scenario. Fiji has a efficiently controlled fishery with good regulatory oversight, run by mostly domestic operators (I say mostly because there are substantial Chinese interests behind some key operators), mostly local crew, dockside processors, short value chains and responsible importers in defined markets and all keen to do the right thing. Fiji is here at the same time Flag, Coastal, Port and Processing State, hence would be difficult to find a better scenario to test the system.

For me the key aspect of key interest is that it is based on Blockchain, a technology that is rapidly advancing into many areas of our world. Basically, a blockchain is a digital ledger that is distributed, decentralised, verifiable and irreversible. It can be used to record transactions of almost anything and where “ownership/responsibility” needs to be accounted for.

It is a shared database that everyone along the value chain can see and update, hence giving it a lot of transparency, all players along the value chain can see and verify the ledger, but no one can alter or delete the history of transactions with out everyone else noticing.

Ideally, an interested consumer could scan a code on a fish (hopefully before buying it) and know its “self -verified” history back to the vessel… (I say "self verified", since if all the players are inserting ‘suitable arranged data’ the system will still work), but in principle if it includes official guarantees it could provide bona fide guarantees of its legality…

Some people has been calling it a solution for fisheries “sustainability” and human right abuses…

I don't like that because it puts too much pressure on one example of very good use of technology.... those issues are multifaceted and involve a lot of jurisdictions, pining the solutions on one system is really unfair to that system and risk hyper-inflating the expectations on the tool and then people walking away because it does not deliver on the hype that was built around it.   

Furthermore, for me “Sustainability is a process” not a line drawn somewhere. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and we have to navigate ethical choices since there is no one perfect way to achieve a complex goal. What is ethical and sustainable depends deeply from where one is standing in any system.

In any case I love to see that is working, as it is a solution for short value chains with a few players on a "decentralised" system (meaning each player is voluntary a "central" of sorts), hence the system works.

Now on a non voluntary system, where there are no incentives for the "player to do its bit", and we have processing over multiple jurisdictions, the system may need to be centralised or gatekeept either at one or connecting levels... and involve official verifications, otherwise "mass balance" would be complicated.

And there lies the challenge for anyone playing this game, as my friend Gilles said, “With CDS, we have the means to effectively tackle IUU, but whether the collective will to do so exists is a different matter.”

In our recent FAO book "Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance" we tackled the issue of Blockchain for eCDS, and I quote:

“The so-called “blockchain” technology is set to revolutionize the way in which data that were centrally recorded and managed are recorded at the decentralized level in future. Our statement does not challenge this. Blockchain technology may eventually eliminate the need for central registries, and is therefore likely to reduce the complexity and cost of transnational traceability systems. Current compliance functions enforced through a CDS central registry will remain in place to identify fraudulent transactions in blockchain systems and environments. The difference between a central registry and a blockchain approach to CDS data is a matter of form, not function.”

I’m truly exited to see where this is going, and have already involved Ken in the idea of an e-Port initiative (paperless, interconnected and uploading directly into regional databases and a eCDS) I’m working on... so watch their space.

The potential use of ‘automatic identification systems – AIS’ as a fisheries monitoring tool. by Francisco Blaha

The good people of Fish-i-Africa has produced another very good document: The potential use of ‘automatic identification systems – AIS’ as a fisheries monitoring tool. The report offers an understanding of the potential and challenges of using automatic identification system (AIS) as part of MCS operations and provides recommendations for the potential national and regional utilisation of AIS. I wrote about AIS in the past, and this document is very complete so it get into my ever expanding resources library.

 One of   
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  60,638 Chinese fishing vessels... (yes that number is correct)

One of 60,638 Chinese fishing vessels... (yes that number is correct)

 Of course is best to refer to the original, but I just would like to highlights some of the things that impacted me the most.

From the Executive Summary

Like any other fisheries monitoring tool, AIS has advantages and disadvantages, and is most effective when used in combination with other approaches. 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 analytical capacity is required to translate raw AIS data into usable intelligence and is an integral cost of using AIS.
AIS units are more susceptible to tampering than some other types of vessel tracking technology. AIS data is also subject to prosecutorial limitations – it generally cannot be used as the sole piece of evidence to prosecute acts of illegal fishing, although it has successfully been used in proceedings with less strict evidentiary requirements, such as out of court settlements. However, AIS can be used very effectively in combination with other approaches – for example, to target the deployment of enforcement assets such as coastguard vessels and planes, and to provide intelligence to target and inform dockside inspections.
The strengths and weaknesses of AIS make it a suitable tool to complement the use of VMS (vessel monitoring systems). VMS are mandated by several flag states, coastal states and several regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). Whilst VMS units are more difficult to tamper with compared to AIS, they also have limitations, including lack of transparency and less continuous reporting (data is often reported every 1-4 hours). Use of both AIS and VMS transponders can therefore increase transparency and reliability and greatly reduce the likelihood of a vessel going dark due to actual or claimed system malfunction.
Key recommendations
To maximise the impact of AIS as a tool to reduce illicit fishing activities, coastal, flag and port States are recommended to:
  • Maximise AIS use by fishing vessels – increase the number of fishing vessels transmitting AIS signals, by requiring 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.
  • Ensure access to AIS data – develop capacity and support to analyse AIS data, combining data from shore-based and satellite receivers supported by expert analysis of the data.
  • Utilise AIS analysis for MCS – wherever possible support MCS operations and infraction investigations and prosecutions with AIS data and analysis.

Some very interesting data on usage by the DWFN

Taiwan: No flag State mandates, however a search of a free AIS viewer showed over 2,500 Taiwan-flagged vessels equipped with AIS, 1,427 of which reported being fishing vessels
European Union: All EU member-country-flagged fishing vessels greater than 15 meters are required to operate AIS
Japan: No flag State mandates, however a search of a free AIS viewer showed over 4,102 Japan-flagged vessels equipped with AIS, 426 of which reported being fishing vessels.
Korea: AIS is required for vessels flagged by South Korea. A search of a free AIS viewer showed over 4,825 Korean Republic-flagged vessels equipped with AIS, 810 of which reported being fishing vessels8
China: AIS reported to be required for China-flagged vessels, legal mandate is unclear; a search of a free AIS viewer showed over 60,638 (!) China flagged vessels that reported being fishing vessels are equipped with AIS

Analysis of AIS tracks can be used to identify indications of high-risk activity, including:

  • Vessels turning off tracking systems such as AIS for significant periods while in national EEZs;
  • Reefers stopping and/or moving very slowly at sea for significant periods in a pattern possibly indicative of transhipment activity;
  • Vessels being uncooperative when inspections are required;
  • and, reports from several sources of reefers and fishing vessels coming together at sea.

The role of private data platforms in addressing IUU fishing and overfishing by Francisco Blaha

I have written in the past about the use of new tech to complement the more traditional technologies we use in MCS. In fact I have done some work with OceanMind (and I’m open to do more with them and others). I see this new technologies as further tools in a growing toolbox.

 Image copyright by OceanMind

Image copyright by OceanMind

Solutions for complex issues like IUU come in many different ways and shapes, I don't think one unique system would ever be able to do all the tricks. The people on the food safety side for years have applied what they call "Hurdle Technology" that usually works by combining more than one approach aimed to a simple outcome, and I always liked that idea.

Now, how this groups and organization would maintain themselves beyond wealthy and committed donors, is something I still have to figure out, but unlike other colleagues… I totally welcome the presence of new tech providers and I’m more than happy to work constructively with them

A new briefing by Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent think thank based in London has been just published: Fishing for data: The role of private data platforms in addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and overfishing by Miren Gutierrez, Alfonso Daniels and Guy Jobbins

They analyse the work of some of the mostly European based “providers” and daw some conclusions about them. Is not big read (9 pages) so go to the original, in the meantime I quote the briefing presentation, key messages and conclusions.

New technologies offer unique opportunities to support fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance, particularly for countries in Africa and other regions without the means to patrol their waters or enforce legislation against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and overfishing.
This is the first comprehensive analysis of fisheries data platforms available. The briefing note highlights how developed countries and multilateral organisations have been slow to exploit these opportunities, and have failed to produce a single, effective, public global fisheries information tool. Although private initiatives tackling overfishing and IUU fishing using satellite and data technologies have emerged in recent years to bridge this gap, their potential is undermined by the limited size and insufficient quality of their datasets. Better data management and closer collaboration between these initiatives are needed, alongside improved fisheries governance and greater efforts to tackle corruption and curtail practices including the use of flags of convenience and secret fisheries agreements.
Key messages
  • New technologies offer unique opportunities to support fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance, particularly for countries without the means to patrol their waters or enforce legislation against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and overfishing.
  • Developed countries and multilateral organisations have been slow to exploit these opportunities, and have failed to produce a single, effective, public global fisheries information tool.
  • Private initiatives tackling overfishing and IUU fishing using satellite and data technologies have emerged in recent years to bridge this gap, but their potential is undermined by the limited size and insufficient quality of their datasets.
  • Better data management and closer collaboration between these initiatives is needed, alongside improved fisheries governance and greater efforts to tackle corruption and curtail practices including the use of flags of convenience and secret fisheries agreements.
New technologies such as remote sensing and big data approaches are now common in several areas of environmental and natural resource governance., for example, uses satellite imagery to investigate, monitor and expose oil spills, mine failures and major pollution events. Initiatives using these technologies can expose malpractice to enforcement agencies, insurers, investors and the public, and generate pressure to hold someone accountable.
The fight against IUU fishing and the unsustainable exploitation of fisheries resources could benefit greatly from data activism and support to fisheries MCS and enforcement. Increasing datafication and the expansion of data infrastructure offer new resources for fisheries management.
While governments and multilateral organisations have been slow to capitalise on these opportunities, private initiatives such as the ones described in this briefing note are filling the gap. These initiatives have different strengths and abilities. FishSpektrum’s capacity to analyse and identify individual vessels, OceanMind’s real-time analytic focus, GFW’s computational capacities, Navama’s supply-chain mapping and TMT’s focus on the organisational aspects of international fisheries crimes all address different, critical parts of the challenge. In principle, collaboration and coordination between these initiatives could create a powerful data platform much more useful than any one individual component. How such collaboration can be incentivised between private organisations who are in effect competitors, and under what framework it might be conducted, remains an open question.
Whatever route private operators take, NGOs should demand action from governments and international agencies to improve transparency. A global, centralised database of vessels known or suspected of involvement in IUU fishing would be a good first step. The creation of a worldwide unique vessel identification scheme for and database of fishing vessels has been on the international agenda for too long and with too little progress. In the absence of such resources, the ability of enforcement agencies to address these international environmental crimes is seriously curtailed.
Ultimately, big data solutions alone will not tackle over fishing or end IUU fishing. Greater political will, improved governance and policy action, anti-corruption efforts, enhanced port measures and improved international coordination are all necessary to tackle these crimes. However, these new technologies can be an important tool in the fight against over fishing and IUU fishing, if they can be effectively harnessed. 




MSC changes its posture on compartmentalisation by Francisco Blaha

For a while now there have been criticisms to the MSC’s Standard for sustainable fishing by allowing “compartmentalisation” where a vessel can have catches that are certified and catches that are not, based on gear deployment modalities (on FADs or Free-school). I wrote about this (and other issues I have with the MSC process) in the past (here is my latest, but here are all my mentions). Hence I’m really happy to see that MSC has come back to the highest standards it see itself fostering, and has changed its posture on this issue.

 right hand is MSC and left non MSC? or was it the other way?

right hand is MSC and left non MSC? or was it the other way?

It will require that all fishing activities on a target stock on a single trip to be certified against the MSC’s Standard for sustainable fishing, for tuna this means that instead of allowing vessels to catch FAD (non MSC) and free school (MSC) in the same trip, it would be up to the vessels to decide if the whole trip would be FAD free (other than the catches during FAD closure here in the pacific).

The decision was reached at the very recently at the MSC Board meeting in London this week. It followed an extensive, public consultation and a review in December 2017 by the MSC’s Technical Advisory Board.

As explained, in early 2017, the MSC initiated a review of its UoA requirements in response to concerns that the current rule allows a vessel to catch fish from the same stock using both certified and uncertified fishing gear or catch methods on a single trip. Under the new requirements this will not be possible; certified seafood will only enter MSC certified supply chains if it comes from fishing trips on which all activities on the target stock are certified.

This is all good news to me, and surely to the many observers and unloading operators I work in the Pacific whose work would be simplified from the present logistical (sometimes nightmarish) scenarios where different wells and lockers are (or not) MSC. Furthermore, many times due to storage availability or vessels stability, people on board was faced with the option of either loosing the MSC status by storing FAD fish on “MSC” wells or trying to lie about it. This way is much easier.

Is to be seen the operational and economic impact that this would have in the fleet, is my personal opinion (and I’m not an fisheries economist, so I could be wrong) that FAD fish is the “bread and butter” of the tuna fishery, while MSC is nice desert… but I don't know if the 3 month of FAD closure (ergo MSC by default) would be enough to maintain the cost of certification.

In any case, I’m a bit disappointed that the timing for the changes is quite substantial. The new UoA (Unit of Assessment) requirements, will be released in August 2018, fisheries entering assessment for the first time after February 2019 will need to comply with the new UoA requirements, and fisheries which are already under assessment or certified will have three years from August 2018 to make the transition to the new requirements.

I’m sure there are legal or strong commercial reasons for that 3 years lapse… I would have gone for immediate and negotiated for 1/1/2019… but then, I’m not making any money out of the ecolabeling business.

 below the net is non MSC above is MSC... are your sure? (in carrier the compartmentalisation will continue)

below the net is non MSC above is MSC... are your sure? (in carrier the compartmentalisation will continue)

Ecosystem-based fisheries management in tuna RFMOs by Francisco Blaha

While working in FAO Rome, I trained on Ecosystems Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) and it was quite detailed and made sense… yet reality has a different take on good concepts. EBFM is a widely accepted concept and various international instruments require its application. However, its application at national level almost always brings about confrontations and resistance among managers, proponents, and stakeholders, which unless they all understand and accept the specific goals, the ecosystem approach will not succeed. So what chances are at RFMO level, which are hardly an example of common goals? 

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 3.24.15 PM.png

Interestingly, this is a question that Maria José Juan-Jordá, Hilario Murua, Haritz Arrizabalaga, Nicholas K Dulvy, and Victor Restrepo have tried to answer in a recent article for Fish and Fisheries: Report card on ecosystem-based fisheries management in tuna regional fisheries management organisations

The Abstract reads:
International instruments of fisheries governance have set the core principles for the management of highly migratory fishes. We evaluated the progress of tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (tRFMOs) in implementing the ecological component of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM). We first developed a best case tRFMO for EBFM implementation. Second, we developed criteria to evaluate progress in applying EBFM against this best case tRFMO. We assessed progress of the following four ecological components: target species, bycatch species, ecosystem properties and trophic relationships, and habitats. We found that many of the elements necessary for an operational EBFM are already present, yet they have been implemented in an ad hoc way, without a long-term vision and a formalized plan.
Overall, tRFMOs have made considerable progress monitoring the impacts of fisheries on target species, moderate progress for bycatch species, and little progress for ecosystem properties and trophic relationships and habitats. The tRFMOs appear to be halfway towards implementing the ecological component of EBFM, yet it is clear that the “low-hanging fruit” has been plucked and the more difficult, but surmountable, issues remain, notably the sustainable management of bycatch. All tRFMOs share the same challenge of developing a formal mechanism to better integrate ecosystem science and advice into management decisions. We hope to further discussion across the tRFMOs to inform the development of operational EBFM plans.

The conclusions are clear:
All the tRFMOs, at best, stand half way towards delivering the ecological elements of EBFM. We find progress has been implemented in an ad hoc manner, in the absence of a long-term vision and a formalized implementation plan. While overall performance varied across the ecological components, tRFMOs have made considerable progress within the ecological component of target species, moderate progress in the ecological component of bycatch species, but little progress in both the components of ecosystem properties and trophic relationships, and habitats.

All tRFMOs have adopted a myriad of management measures to manage target species and minimize the effects of fishing on bycatch species, yet no measures have been adopted to account for and minimize the impacts of fishing on the trophic relationships and food web structure of marine ecosystems, and protection of habitats of special concern.

Furthermore, none of the management measures adopted for target or bycatch species have been linked to pre-established operational objectives, associated indicators and reference points, precluding them to be activated when pre-defined reference points are exceeded, with the exception of Southern bluefin tuna in CCSBT and for dolphin species in IATTC. These findings revealed that the hard but important tasks of actually managing both target and bycatch species with pre-established management responses linked to clear operational objectives, indicators and reference points needs to be urgently addressed.

All the tRFMOs face similar challenges of coordinating all ecosystem research activities, developing an effective mechanism to better integrate ecosystem research and advice into management decisions, and communicating them to their respective Commissions. If tRFMOs were ambitious about operationalizing EBFM, we envisage a practical next step would be to develop EBFM plans to set up a roadmap to guide and advance towards its full implementation.

Furthermore, we believe its implementation should be seen as a step-wise adaptive process which should be supported by the best ecosystem science. With this comparative review of progress, we hope to encourage dialogue between tRFMOs to solve many of the current challenges facing them to fully implement and operationalize EBFM. Next, we present a set of grand challenges accompanied with primary recommendations that in our judgement, if addressed, could accelerate the implementation of EBFM across the tRFMOs. We also try to highlight ongoing initiatives and opportunities that potentially could help overcome these challenges.

  • Grand challenge 1—Break with misconceptions of what EBFM is and who should be the main drivers of change
  • Grand challenge 2—Commit to operationalize EBFM
  • Grand challenge 3—Develop operational EBFM plans
  • Grand challenge 4—Conduct a prioritization assessment to guide research to advance towards becoming a best case tRFMO
  • Grand challenge 5—Establish mechanisms to coordinate and integrate ecosystem research and to communicate ecosystem advice to the Commissions
  • Grand challenge 6—Establish mechanisms to facilitate collaboration across tRFMOs
  • Grand challenge 7—Increase external collaboration to increase capacity and bring new expertise within tRFMOs
  • Grand challenge 8—Strength decision-making and dispute settlement processes for more effective implementation of EBFM and adoption of conservation and management measures

The 2018 International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) by Francisco Blaha

There is a lot of talk about observers at the moment, people making interviews, discussion in the media, etc. And this is a good thing! Observers are the key player in the fisheries world, yet one that faces a lot of challenges, some (like safety) are known and push trough media others are less discussed (like work progression – what career development options are there for an observer, or issues about contracting, unions, insurances, among other hundred topics.)

 Guys on the job 

Guys on the job 

Yet by its nature observers don't get the set up that scientist or even less fisheries bureaucrats in terms forums and congresses to get together and exchange experiences and information… in fact I only know one: The International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) that this year will take place in Vigo, Spain.

Since 1998, this conference series has been the only one of its kind to specifically address the many issues surrounding fisheries monitoring programs. This conference is the premier international forum for working on the critical issues of fisheries observer programs, emerging monitoring technologies, and other approaches to fishery-dependent data collection and analyses.

Its vision is to improve fishery monitoring programs worldwide through sharing of practices and development of new methods of data collection and analysis, and to provide a forum for dialog between those responsible for monitoring fisheries and those who rely upon the data they collect.

To be considered successful, the 2018 IFOMC will:

  • Improve the quality of fishery monitoring data through sharing of best practices for collection and analysis of information.
  • Improve the use of fishery monitoring data to support sustainable resource management.
  • Improve accessibility to fishery monitoring data.
  • Support the development of new innovative data collection methods.
  • Support the development of international safety standards for at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Improve the training and safety of at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Support the development of fisheries observer professionalism practices on an international basis.

The conference call for presentations and posters from everyone that has something to say under the following theme sessions for this year:

1. Why monitor fisheries and what to monitor
2. Industry engagement with monitoring
3. Monitoring artisanal fisheries
4. New approaches to analysing monitoring data

5. Assessing bias from monitoring programs
6. Harmonizing and standardizing monitoring programs

7. Briefing and debriefing observers
8. Observer training, safety and mental health

9. Technology used by observers
10. Operationalizing technology-based monitoring: learning from programs around the world

11. The future of monitoring programs

I only work laterally with observers (and I’m not part of any organization) so I have never presented anything there, but no doubt is the top forums for those that work on observer and eM issues !

I had long and interesting discussions about the compliance elements in the role of an observer (dong read enforcement! I’m saying compliance), and I always take the opportunity to have chat with the observers when I do boarding… they know more about that vessels that any other “official” in the world, and definitively more than most officers in the flag state of those vessels.

Observers, in my opinion, deserve a more way more prominent role at any of the fisheries decision making bodies we have, and I would love to see Pacific Islands Fisheries Observers meeting / conference.

I get sometime a lot of negative comments about the observers performance and conduct, yet is important to understand that as any other group of people in the world have inherent variability in their work, attitude and ethics… from the young observer that presented to us in the Marshalls the four 100 dollars bills (a week of wages for him) given to him by a skipper to keep quiet on a FAD set, to the guy that was so drunk on board that he could not even stand, even less do the job he was getting paid to do, while breaking the rule of no drinking alcohol while on board.

And the same goes for officials, consultants, captains, crew, etc… and that variability is just part of the reality we need to deal with, pretending we are all ideal or all evil will never work…. And talking about it is the way to go

In any case this post was about IFOMC, and I wish them the biggest success, and looking forward to read about the outcomes