“Persons of Interest” from a fisheries perspective (and their identification) / by Francisco Blaha

It always struck me as odd that we have IUU vessels lists, and that when they capture vessels, they burn it or stuff like that. Yet, we don't do that with cars, and while we actually may impound them, we do go after the driver. We find them, get their license off for periods of time, get demerit point, etc… but also we keep track of recidivism. Vessels don't commit offences, people on board do, either by them self or on behalf of the vessels owners, so why we take it on the vessels?

definitivelly PoIs in the 90s… they all retired, dead … or even worst: one is a consultant!

definitivelly PoIs in the 90s… they all retired, dead … or even worst: one is a consultant!

Identifying Persons of Interest (PoI) is an issue that has been brewing for a couple of years for us in FFA, and I’m on the way to Honiara for our 2nd big workshop on it.

Tracking people is a complex area that mixes legal and operational elements (I come in from the operational side). Legally one of the most critical issues underlying a POI scheme is to decide which persons come within such a category and the accompanying question of whether beneficial ownership should be included as part of the target.

While is quite convenient to have the broadest approach to determining who are POI, is also true that the bigger and the more variables in the data set, the more complicated is it to handle (let me come back later to this)

One of the first things to decide then is the type of “natural or legal persons” are we talking about? And we have quite a collection here.

For the simple Francisco: it should be straightforward… a vessel is allowed to fish against a series of conditions listed in the fishing license, complying with the conditions is the responsibility of the master (aka the captain), and “our record of transaction” is the logsheet, where the signature at the bottom takes on the responsibility of the accuracy of the information provided. And that person is the one I should be interested… yet is no easy in reality

In reality depending on the type, gear and flag of vessel we have a series of operational people on board.

For example, the issue here is that the set up in modern purseiner is quite complex, the days that the master did everything are long gone. Today you may have the master, the fishing master and the navigator, that depending the arrangement of board will be the responsible of the vessel as entity, or the responsible of the fishing operations, hence who is accountable for the logsheet or for deciding when do you set, or to cheat around a FAD during closure for example?

If fact on over half of the US-flagged vessel the captain under American law, has to be American, yet he would be the only American on board and is basically a paper captain… the total command of the vessel is in the hands of the Taiwanese fishing master, I been on board vessels where there was no communication in between these two maters, they could not understand a word of each other… yet the logsheet (in English) was signed by the American master, who may have been in his cabin drinking for half of the trip… so if there have been infringements who is responsible?

The fishing master on a PS is the person that takes command of the vessel during fishing, gives to orders, communicates with the panga, gives the order to the winchman, etc, etc… not an easy job I tell you… yet he is responsible for the fishing.

The role of the navigator (in some vessels they also call them radio operator) is an interesting one, since is the person that will take you to the fish, back in the days he will also do the navigation, but today he has the satellite and oceanographic data as to where to find the fish… but now he is the guy on the FAD plotters checking how much fish is it under each of the hundreds of sonar FADs he (and other associated to him, his fishing master or his company have). But also, this role is changing, since a lot of the data now feed directly to some fisheries biologist or oceanographer in front of 4 screens at the vessels owners or syndicate headquarters that relay that info back to the vessels and say, go here or there… so is not easy…

For most PICs flagged vessels, there are no links in between the responsibilities on board and the flag state, (in some cases there is not even a company representative of the owners in the flag state). Japanese vessels tend to have their own nationals in charge, in fact, fishing master and master tend to be the same and most of the crew as well, Chinese follow something similar… yet there is a more stable difference in between the master, fishing master and radio operator

In LL (longliners) and P&L is much simpler, the master tends to be the fishing master…and in many cases also the vessels owner… yet that is diminishing with time. In the bigger LL you may have a master and fishing master.

Back on my DJ days, days when you were exploring new music I learned to keep track of the producers, most than the artists… those guys where the ones marking the trends, the musicians just played it and the labels sold it.

Similarly, in fishing is a whole other layer of people that have the power of decisions and in some fleets are the deciders, but also like the producers are the ones marking the borders for how their vessels operate…

In fishing, we have vessel owner, beneficial owner, but also company directors, de facto directors, and shadow directors.

And getting to these guys can be very complex or just impossible, as they ownership is hidden under layers of overlapping jurisdictions and shell companies where the vessel Is flagged on an open registry and the company/nies on fiscal heavens. And their relationships to the coastal state where they are fishing is via a Charterer in that country which also defines a further category on PoI.

Now all this is very interesting form the organisational and legal perspective and surely will be dealt with… but from my operational background, my interest is on how do we get the data of this people and how we do know who is who and what role they have, mainly because a straightforward but always forgotten element in data acquisition and management: language.

While in principle can be easy to think that we just ask for the person passport and see if their signature coincides with the one in the logsheet, reality is that fishing in the Pacific is mostly Asian, and all the people involved have names in Asian script, while compliance and databases are designed for western (Roman) script… and here start a further problem.

With my colleges from Tryyg Mat Tracking have been doing very interesting work on the problems of romanisation and reverse of fishing vessels names, problems that are totally transferable to peoples names.

On the image below we can see that a unique Chinese script name, can be written in at least 36 different ways in Roman characters.

thanks Duncan!

thanks Duncan!

Or in reverse, a romanised name can have two different ways to be written in Chinese and these, of course, will have its own ways to be re-romanised

thanks Duncan!

thanks Duncan!

So yes… imagine what it would be to manage a database with all this and at least 7 different PoI? How do you make sense of it (and who is going to do it!)

Yet we still have a big issue here, that is what is the unique identifier here, what do we use to say this person is this person… the western usual combination of name and DoB is more fallible in terms of Asian scripts.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 9.16.48 AM.png

Hence my proposal is to go the biometric way, and nothing easier these days that fingerprints and a picture… at the operational level, we can do that when boarding and getting the logsheet… who’s signature is this one? Ok, that is you? Yes? Can you write your name in the original script here, thank you. What is your position? Fishing master… nice. Here stay quiet while I make a picture and put your thumb in this reader.

What do we do with this? all this gets into a database similar to the one in the airport when you go over immigration, and any issues arising from your operations would be linked to your profile…

And if in the future, we get to: Ah no this is not me! ok… please put your thumb here mate… and all will be sorted.

The type of portable biometric readers I’m thinking are on the picture on the right, standard gear this days.

Yes… long walk till we get this one on track… but you have to start somewhere, and you have to applaud FFA for thinking different and giving this project a go.


PS: when i told my kids the first reaction was how cool it would be if i was going to a workshop of “interesting persons” like a a works where everyone is really interesting! (love that idea)