// NORTH AMERICA / CALIFORNIA

The Devil's in the Details

What can happen aboard a fishing boat in the span of an hour? The answer – just about anything.

What can happen aboard a fishing vessel in the span of an hour? The answerjust about anything. This question caught the attention of Pelagic Data System's founding team in early 2014. With their backgrounds in fisheries management, the three-person team understood that existing tracking technologies capture only enough information to estimate a boat's activities. Using data on a vessel's position, course, and speedreported by the hourtechnologists can deduce if it's fishing or not and little else. They realized, if you could track a vessel's location every couple seconds, you could learn more about its activities, including how fast it's moving from moment to moment, when it's fishing versus transiting, and even what types of equipment fishermen are using. A device like that would expand the cache of fisheries management tools, especially of small-scale fisheries, which are not typically tracked using existing technologies. So, the team conceived of PDS' vessel tracking technologya small and inexpensive solar-powered device that uses cellular networks to keep second-by-second tabs on artisanal vessels.

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society
While small-scale vessels are overlooked by current monitoring systems, their footprint nearly matches the work of commercial fleets; 90 percent of fishermen work on small-scale boats, which supply about half of the global catch.

Off the Radar

There are two main ways to track commercial fishing vessels: first, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), which are mandated by the International Maritime Organization on vessels over 40 tons, and second, Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), which are used by regional fisheries management organizations and governments. These systems are designed to track larger vessels, which means the artisanal fleets remain, in large part, off the radar. While small-scale vessels are overlooked by current monitoring systems, their footprint nearly matches the work of commercial fleets. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 90 percent of fishermen work on small-scale boats, which supply about half of the global catch. With this in mind, the team set about designing a device geared toward small-scale and near-shore fisheries and one that could report vessel information by the second rather than the hour.

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society

PDS' device, which uses cellular networks to report vessel locations, didn't start out looking the way it does today. Rather, it took six months of prototyping. The current device, which is about the size of an iPhone 6+, is 75 percent smaller than the initial prototype and can be attached anywhere on a vessel with just a screwdriver. With the size of the device figured out, the PDS team had to answer a tenacious questionhow to make the device power-free. Artisanal vessels often lack onboard power sources and asking fishermen to recharge the device would make the technology unreliable. Aiming for a system as passive as possible, the team settled on a solar panel that covers the face of the device. Finally, they adjusted the device so that it can't be turned offsafeguarding it from the temptation some fishermen might have to conceal their activities. The passive nature and anti-spooking features of PDS' device addressed many of the long-standing obstacles faced by other vessel monitoring systems.

Fit for Sea?

After a couple test drives, the PDS team put their device to work. The potential applications for PDS' detailed data became apparent early on. In 2015, Del Pacifico Seafoods began working with several fishing co-cops in Sinaloa, Mexico, to get the fishermen's catch Fair Trade certified. Del Pacifico enlisted PDS to help implement a monitoring and traceability system as part of the certification process. The certification required the fishermen to demonstrate that they were not using a certain gear type, which was prohibited in Sinaloa but allowed in neighboring states. The detailed geometries of PDS' system allowed Del Pacifico to distinguish which gear the fishermen were using and was instrumental in helping the co-ops certify their catch. 

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society
Not only have their projects helped them finetune and enhance the analytics they offer to customers, but PDS has also become more aware of the gaps in fisheries data and how they can help enhance fisheries management across small and large-scale producers.

Its partnership with the Sinaloa co-ops is just one of dozens of projects that PDS has implemented. Not only have their projects helped them finetune and enhance the analytics they offer to customers, but PDS has also become more aware of the gaps in fisheries data and how they can help enhance fisheries management across small and large-scale producers. Last year, PDS partnered with Global Fishing Watch and PT Bali Seafood International to install devices on 100 small-scale vessels that supply PT Bali. The new partnership has the potential to drive fisheries management forward by integrating the vessel data available across the range of existing platforms. The shared data provides a more complete picture of fishing activities in the waters around Indonesia than each of the partners could furnish individually. As Melissa Garren, Chief Scientific Officer at PDS, points out, "We need to be able to integrate data across several different technologies."


ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society

The success of the collaboration made one thing clear to the PDS team: a necessary next step in fisheries management is to synchronize the data gathered by the range of technologies and operators currently at work. Just two years since the PDS team began prototyping their hardware, they are beginning to re-imagine their role as an integrator, working with regional fisheries management organizations to help build complete data on fisheries. They have begun to work with customers to visualize not only their data but also integrate outside data to provide their customers with full-picture analytics to make better-informed decisions. 

At first, the PDS team set out to fill a data gap. Existing vessel monitoring systems were not designed to collect detailed data from small-scale vessels. Upon the success of their tracking technology, the team is now working to complement their analytics with other available data to build a fuller picture of the oceansone that can be used by governments and conservationists to protect fisheries and by fishermen to secure a stable, sustainable livelihood. It's not only good for the environment. It's good for business.

ENRIC SALA/Courtesy of National Geographic Society
// SOUTH AMERICA / GALAPAGOS

Old Trick, New Book

The unlikely story of a conservation organization and a re-packaged technology solution to root out illegal fishing

// SOUTH PACIFIC // KIRIBATI

Out of the Shadows and onto Your Browser

How satellite data, algorithms and machine learning work together to bring worldwide fishing activity to the click of the mouse By Ariella Knight

// GET IN TOUCH

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