- In mid-May Chile finalized an agreement to publicly share proprietary data from its satellite system for monitoring fishing boats via Global Fishing Watch (GFW), an online interactive mapping platform that tracks ship movements across the globe.
- The country joins Indonesia and Peru, whose data already appear on the GFW platform, as well as Namibia, Panama and Costa Rica, which have pledged to do so.
- Countries are motivated to go public by the prospect of enhancing their ability to enforce fishing regulations, keep an eye on foreign fishing fleets operating outside or transiting through their waters, and, in Chile’s case, prevent the spread of disease in its salmon aquaculture industry.
In mid-May Chile finalized an agreement to publicly share proprietary data from its satellite system for monitoring fishing boats, known as a Vessel Monitoring System. The country will share the data via Global Fishing Watch (GFW), an online interactive mapping platform that tracks ship movements across the globe.
Satellite data on a ship’s identity, location and speed from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is publicly available; this is what GFW relies on to monitor about 60,000 fishing vessels around the globe. However, only large fishing vessels are generally required to broadcast AIS, and the crew can, if so inclined, illicitly turn the systems off or tamper with the data. Countries run their own satellite-based Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) to police local fishing regulations, requiring participation by most fishing boats.
With Chile’s VMS data in hand, GFW’s data scientists can begin integrating the country’s fleet into the map. Data from Chile’s 1,500-plus fishing and aquaculture vessels will join that of Peru’s 1,300 fishing vessels and Indonesia’s 5,000-plus fishing vessels. Indonesia was the first country to make its data public in 2017, followed by Peru in 2018. Like Chile, Namibia, Panama and Costa Rica have pledged to do the same.
Chile’s forthcoming addition to the map feels like a milestone, according to Bjorn Bergman, a GFW data scientist in charge of transparency in Central and South America.
“With Chile it’s really clear that we’re getting a trend of countries trying to distribute their data in this way,” Bergman told Mongabay. Having data from both Peru and Chile will bring transparency to ship movement along the entire western coast of South America.
Fisheries managers in Chile, a leading aquaculture producer, are keen to gain insights from the GFW platform. A 2007 viral infection wiped out as much as 20 percent of the aquaculture industry’s salmon. Studies showed that the movement of service boats among the pens to feed or transfer fish and perform other tasks contributed to the quick spread of the virus. Monitoring the more than 800 service vessels is part of the nation’s disease-prevention program.
Chile also brought back its jack mackerel population from the brink of collapse with strict sustainability measures, and is very protective of this population for its local fishers. Fisheries managers want to keep a watchful eye on the foreign fleets fishing for jack mackerel just outside Chile’s exclusive economic zone, which could deplete stocks for local fishers. For example, a specific Chinese squid fleet that transits from Peru to Argentina through Chilean waters a couple of times a year has stirred suspicion, according to Bergman.
“Basically when you’re in transit, you’re moving at 10 knots in a constant direction,” Bergman said. “But if you stop for a couple of days, you’re moving at a slower speed, they wonder if the vessel is fishing or doing something else. Those are things you can monitor with Global Fishing Watch.”
Chilean fishers and aquaculturists also see the GFW map as public documentation of their catch’s provenance to potential consumers.
“They’re definitely interested in displaying that they are managing aquaculture responsibly,” Bergman said. “They talk about value being added to a product when it can be publicly traceable in this way.”
How quickly a country goes from committing to share its VMS data to actually being represented on the GFW map depends on many factors, for example, the complexity of the country’s monitoring needs. GWF may pull in data from additional streams, say, a fishing registry, or may add a machine-learning task.
“We want filter options [on the map] that are most relevant to a country’s fishery,” Bergman said, “types of gear, the species, even something very specific like the anchovy stock that’s being fished in Peru.”
This tailored data connectivity to help a fishery’s monitoring program is part of what motivates countries to go public on the GWF map.
Always updating the map, GFW data scientists continue to tweak data from Peru and Indonesia. Within the next month or so, Panama and Namibia’s data will be live on the platform, and GFW is still negotiating details of data sharing with Costa Rica, according to the organization’s chief of staff, Samantha Emmert.
As for Chile’s data appearing on the map? “Definitely we’re talking about months,” Bergman said. “It’s better to think of this as the beginning of a collaboration process.”
Banner image: Fishing boats in Seno de Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound), in southern Chile. Image by Robert Nunn via Flickr.
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