Pirate fishing vessels plundering fish from the world’s marine reserves, such as the one around Ascension Island announced on the weekend, can now be watched, tracked and brought to justice using satellite technology.
Despite a proliferation of huge, publicly lauded marine reserves, actually stopping fishing in many remote areas has previously been almost impossible.
Fishing vessels are required to carry a transponder that tracks their movements and allows authorities to monitor their behaviour. But illegal fishers simply switch off the machine, disappearing from the system.
A UK-funded initiative, developed by Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, uses satellite radars to track these “dark targets”. Now, instead of blindly patrolling vast areas of ocean, coastguard vessels use the satellite intelligence to target their search.
“We don’t put a cop on every corner 24 hours a day. So let’s at least know what the situation out on the water is [before sending boats to investigate],” said Bradley Soule, senior fisheries analyst for SAC. Satellite radar has traditionally been used by the military and law enforcement agencies. But the cost has dropped dramatically, opening up the data for private companies to use.
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