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.

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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.