New Common Fisheries Policy – new electronics!
The cost of new technology is not small, especially for new solutions
We did not have to wait long for reactions from politicians, biologists, environmentalists and other interested groups on the long announced proposal for new EU Common fisheries Policy (CFP).
From the VMS terminal manufacturer’s point of view, the new CFP opens the following important issues to discuss:
- Scalability of onboard tracking terminals
- IUU spotting
- Proper use of technology by responsible institutions
Scalability of tracking terminals
In addition to industrial fisheries and middle scale fisheries (mostly vessels 12-15m long), small scale fisheries come into the mark of the new CFP. This category is important. Not because of the fishing capacity (only 8% of EU tonnage), or new fishing techniques, new gears and powerful engines used by large vessels (which in their hands become dangerous armaments for predating the seas), but because of the social and cultural impact of small fishing.
‘The reformed CFP extends the right for Member States to restrict fishing within 12 nautical miles zone off the coastline all until the year 2022.’ This becomes important because of the possibility that ‘small-scale fisheries may be exempted from the transferable fishing concessions scheme.1
Technology advancements and experience gained are urging us to include small scale fisheries into the VMS systems for surveillance and control as well.
Onboard satellite tracking terminals can be divided into three price categories: less than €500 for small scale fisheries, around €2000 for middle scale fisheries, and above €2500 for industrial fishing2. Lower cost VMS terminals for small-scale fisheries are essentially still non-existent. However, these terminals (if they appear on the market in future) would not mean information of a lesser quality, but probably data with less real-time availability and/or worse geographical coverage. We are witnessing such situation with LRIT terminals, AIS terminals or worse even: GPRS-only based tracking devices. Even e-logbook (ERS) messages are not required to be transmitted in real time (i.e. at the time when catch is weighted on board the ship).
Further on, statistics tells us that fishing vessels are involved in almost half of maritime dangerous incidents. To combat the situation AIS class A transponders should be installed by May 2014 on all vessels 15m long and above (Directive 2009/17/EC 23 April 2009, art. 18). This requirement again puts a financial burden on fishermen.
However, this burden can be eased by new solutions:
EMA is suggesting a pilot project using the new AIS standard EC 62287-2 which introduces SO (Self Organising) technology to Class B transponders. So far, the SO technology was exclusive to AIS Class A transponders only, mostly used on commercial vessels of 300GRT and more and navigating in international waters. By allowing SO Class B transponders to be used on smaller fishing vessels the much lower cost of these transponders would take the financial burden off the back of small fishermen.
One further issue comes of age as well: the deterioration of older surveillance (especially VMS) systems. Some early VMS adopters already face this important problem.
A new and much lower cost satellite VMS terminal for small scale fisheries can be of a great help for countries that plan to control artisanal fisheries or restrict fishing in prohibited zones fully.
Critics of the proposed CFP believe that the EU Commission requests an ineffective discard ban. What can technology do for discard ban to be more efficient? Banning the discard by itself resolves a lot of issues - including the discard in the quota lowers the total amount of fish in the first place. Probably this is one of the most important decisions in the new CFP. However, banning discards drives the necessity for more electronic reporting and more surveillance and control.
A VMS system by itself is not made to lower discards, it only enables control. ERS intensifies this control even more. Technology can help control the quantity of catch and the use of gear and other fishing equipment if onboard VMS terminals carry the necessary interfacing electronics to connect this external equipment to the VMS terminal. Most of the past VMS terminals were installed without any wiring to the external world.
The costliest item in the VMS/ERS reporting is the satellite air time. Technology providers are trying to design and manufacture new terminals according to new regulations and fishermen needs. We can find new VMS terminals with dual channel solutions i.e. satellite network as a primary communication channel for regular reporting and the second channel for additional reporting: GPRS or AIS can be added. Especially for smaller fleets operating relatively close to shore, where cost is crucial and where frequent, and real time reporting is needed. Why not send the ERS reports when cheaper transmission channel is available? The same goes with eventual video transmitting.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU) is done not only by vessels without any tracking devices, but frequently by vessels that take part in the VMS system. Some fishermen developed techniques to avoid control. They know how to temper terminals, install clones or simulate natural causes of data loss. New VMS terminals can detect almost all these fraud, but the source of the problem lies mostly in the fact that there are a lot of older systems out there, installed some years ago in Latin America, SE Asia, Europe etc. that lack all the contemporary safety and security measures.
However, it is proved that the largest problem for IUU lies in the implementation of rules, lack of control and lack of political willingness of local governments and less on the technology itself.
One can still purchase old fashioned VMS terminals, but the responsibility for installing these devices should be accounted to governments that are sometimes badly informed. Even worse, public tenders in the EU depend too much on price as the most important factor. On the other side we find tenders not prepared well enough. Selection of VMS components is many times still based on the non professional criteria or partial interests.
VMS data is important for analysis and if a device is not reliable, there is no algorithm that can neutralise all errors or data loss. For example: for assumption of fishing, the speed is typically between three and six knots, which is linked to the use of gear. The interval between setting the buoy and recovering the net can hardly be less than two hours. If the VMS data has too much error margin, fraudulent fishermen can find ways to manipulate the system. This is the reason why carefully designed VMS terminals are needed on the first place and good analytical software in the second.
Pinpointing IUU vessels carrying no tracking terminals seems to be easy, but it is not. All vessels can be seen on radars, satellite VDS pictures or directly spotted by others. For IUU spotting by fishermen, the BlueTraker VMS terminal can be equipped with a special ‘IUU Reporting Button’. This way, local fishermen can take part in surveillance of their waters. For example, one of the messages has a pre-programmed text: ‘IUU vessel spotted…miles from my position; direction…o’clock ’. This should be enough to automatically alarm the Fisheries Monitoring Centre about the approximate position of the spotted IUU vessel which appears on the operator’s screens. The Coast Guard can then be sent to check the vessel.
From the technology provider’s side it should not be difficult to control the IUU fishing. The technology is able to spot even the smallest fishing vessels in every region of the world. But that is not enough. The chain must not have weak links, like unselective gears, or unselective fishing techniques. Technology is double edged knife and can be used for more intensive fishing as well. Even more, the sharpest side of the knife is frequently on the side of rule breakers.
Victim of human error
This way the greatest responsibility for establishing sustainable fishing is on the local government which should guarantee the correct operation of the system – and the law enforcement as well.
We can probably agree with critics who demand more detailed procedures and new routines in order to lower the need for human involvement with an ever possible human error or deliberate manipulation of data.
Oversized fleet, for example, is not a matter of technology, but a matter of decision. As the human being is the largest and fiercest predator on Earth, one can expect a lot of obstacles arising from the human nature, more than from technology flaws themselves.
However, the technology can help even more. We have already seen the EU and other fleets moving to foreign waters where control is less severe. Technology is apt to control deep waters effectively, but the largest problem lies in political willingness to accept strict control and additional costs.
The technology is here, but ways to finance it and control properly should be found. The VMS system should be robust enough and effective to process a large quantity of data and offer conclusive analysis to decision makers. Modern technology can do this in every fisheries region in the world.
The new CFP is clearly pointing to the above mentioned human factor with the next measure as well: Decentralising the implementation of rules. This will probably be the most difficult task. More robust management and measures, as well as effective enforcement system are needed. In other words, ‘Implementing Regulation No 404/2011’ needs to be fully implemented or even upgraded.
The World Wildlife Fund has already suggested that crucial delivery mechanisms, responsibilities and timeframes for these plans (outlining who should do what and by when) are required.3
Until now local institutions were frequently the weakest point in fisheries control. Even the best equipment and the best data quality do not serve if the terminals are cloned, tampered, not transmitting to the right place, data not properly analysed in the shortest possible time, and if the local inspections are not responsive enough. One good example is the implementation of electronic catch reporting (ERS) that is far behind the schedule. Manufacturers can assure good functioning of the technology, but they can not assure that it will be properly and timely implemented.
The cost of new technology is not small, especially for new solutions. It could be far lower in case the system is properly designed, the implementation properly executed and the control established. Without all these the circle can not be closed and costs can not be kept low. Reliably functioning devices are possible only with the help of effective management. The important question is: will local governments show an immediate interest for the new CFP and effectively begin to fight unsustainable fishing practices?
The industry is willing to take part in pilot projects, but local governments are not always open to these suggestions.
The EU commission should request shorter implementation times of the new rules, support new technology solutions and pilot projects, and in the first place, use of technology streamlined to result.
2. BlueTraker is probably the only brand to offer a range of on-board VMS terminals scaled to various vessel sizes and fleets
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