EEZ & Fisheries Monitoring

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An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the area between a country’s coastline and 200 nautical miles out into sea, as defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea. This zone allows sovereign rights to fishing, exploration and the use of marine resources.

OceanMind is working with governments all over the world using multiple data sources, including: vessel tracking systems (AIS and VMS), satellite observations including photography and RADAR, fishing vessel databases and oceanographic data, as well as specialist and proprietary databases, to monitor vessel activity within their EEZs and surrounding waters and help them detect any suspicious activity that may require further investigation.

With many years’ experience, OceanMind provides deep analytical support to governments and international authorities to increase the effectiveness and reduce the costs of monitoring, control and surveillance. OceanMind works in partnership and always in confidence, to helps governments take affirmative action in reducing IUU fishing, increasing regulatory compliance, and ultimately, enhancing the sustainability of fisheries.


Case Study: Ascension Island Exclusive Economic Zone Monitoring

Ascension Island is a small, isolated island situated in the equatorial waters of the south Atlantic Ocean. Governed as part of the British Overseas Territory, it forms part of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ Programme and is working towards becoming a Marine Protected Area. The southern half of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is currently closed as a ‘no-take’ zone to all types of fishing, however fishing is permitted within the northern half of the EEZ.

 © Dr Judith Brown, Ascension Island Government

© Dr Judith Brown, Ascension Island Government

OceanMind, with its advanced monitoring and data analysis expertise was approached to monitor the activities taking place in and around the Ascension EEZ with a specific focus on reporting fishing vessel activity and possible illegal activity taking place.

To understand the total activity taking place, OceanMind used two key data sources to monitor the EEZ: Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, which provided sighting and positioning information for vessels operating in the area, and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery to substantiate identified vessel behaviour. Many fishing vessels have AIS installed as an anti-collision device that can be tracked by satellites with global coverage but these can be turned off or tampered with, which often happens when vessels are engaged in illegal activity.

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To corroborate the AIS data and detect any vessels that had gone ‘dark’, SAR images were used to uncover any possible anomalies. All identifiable vessels observed by OceanMind were checked against relevant regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) governing the high seas surrounding the Ascension Island Exclusive Economic Zone. OceanMind’s analysis team also cross checked these vessels against various databases such as those of the International Maritime Organization to verify each vessel type and identification details, and determine compliance with the RMFO conservation and management measures.

To understand the wider impact, OceanMind conducted a detailed analysis of the high seas surrounding Ascension Island. Any vessels observed in or around the EEZ and the general compliance of vessels operating proximate to the EEZ were reported for situational awareness purposes as an indication of potential high risk activity. Transhipment support and bunker vessels operating near the EEZ were also monitored and reported, as they indicated some risk of illegal fishing activity within the Ascension Island EEZ by vessels that were unaccounted for on AIS.

Throughout the reporting period, OceanMind monitored and analysed over 3,400 vessels in and around Ascension Island’s EEZ. A significant number of fishing vessels (primarily longliners and purse seiners) transmitted positions within a 100 nautical mile buffer zone around the EEZ and accompanying support activity from refrigerated cargo ships and bunker vessels were also monitored, which indicated the likely presence of other fishing vessels operating in the area, perhaps illegally, not transmitting via AIS.

Longline fishing vessels targeting tuna are the highest threat to the Ascension Island region. A small number of possible fishing or fishing support vessels inside the EEZ were also detected in the southern closed area of the EEZ that did not correlate with identifiable contacts. Although this did not confirm engagement in illegal activity, it did identify a notable risk, however the radar signature and detailed knowledge of fishing vessel signatures of longliners showed this as a low threat probability.

Overall, OceanMind observed that the  majority of fishing vessels, bunkers and refrigerated cargo ships were very aware of the EEZ and its restrictions. From detailed monitoring and analysis activity, OceanMind found that, in the main, the vessels tracked and corroborated with SAR indicated a high level of compliance with the regulations for Ascension Island EEZ, but that some suspicious vessels were operating in the region.

The Ascension Island Government, together with the UK Government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are further investigating all suspicious vessels identified by this work for verification of compliance and enforcement.

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