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The challenge

The impact of illegal fishing worldwide

Globally, 120 million people depend on fishing for their income. Exports from fisheries are valued at $102 billion, however, more than 30 per cent of global fisheries are overexploited. It is estimated that 26 million tons of fish are caught each year through IUU fishing.

We are helping to monitor illegal fishing, a global issue depleting fish stocks

Illegal fishing has the greatest impact on developing countries whose people rely on fish as their primary source of protein and income. IUU can also be linked to a variety of other crimes including labour exploitation, human rights abuses and trafficking illicit goods.

As global population numbers continue to grow, combating illegal fishing through effective marine monitoring and surveillance is critical to ensure future food security for the world.

Our response

Low-cost innovative tools

We are helping to address IUU by making better use of existing data and identifying new low-cost information sources. This includes:

  • developing surveillance technological solutions to assist fisheries with identification and surveillance
  • analytical tools to extract information from existing datasets
  • working with national and international collaborative partners to increase capacity building and training.

Satellite data

Satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data is the premium method for ship detection at sea, allowing identification of vessels day or night in all conditions. Our expertise can efficiently download and process large volumes of SAR data. This is made available from the EU Sentinel program and our own NovaSAR satellite.

Harvesting navigation radar

We can harvest the navigation radar data from cooperating vessels to provide free maritime surveillance information.

The system can be installed on a wide range of vessels at a low cost. It can also integrate with fisheries monitoring systems to provide managers with free, real-time, and high-resolution surveillance data for their fishing grounds.

A ship navigation radar system
We use data from ship navigation systems to assist in illegal fishing monitoring

Underwater listening devices

Hydrophones are underwater listening devices that record sounds over a designated period of time. They can be used to detect potential illegal fishing vessels and methods, such as bomb fishing. We are combining hydrophones with satellite technology to provide real-time detection of potential IUU activity.

Open source software

Analytical and software tools for monitoring illegal fishing can be cost prohibitive for fisheries management, particularly for developing countries where resources are limited. We offer freely available open source software, including R, Python, and QGIS.

Our strategic methods can estimate the level of illegal fishing quickly and inexpensively, with application for illegal fishing hotspots across the Asia-Pacific region. We can also estimate the lost value to governments and industries in the region.

Vessel Risk Report

The Vessel Risk Report is a web-based reporting tool that identifies and ranks vessels across the globe that are behaving abnormally. This enables users, such as port authorities and fisheries managers, to better detect suspicious activity.

[Image appears of Dr Chris Wilcox talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Chris Wilcox, Senior Research Scientist]


Dr Chris Wilcox:  Illegal fishing is the third most lucrative international crime behind weapons running and drug smuggling.  It affects about a third of the fish in the market and the livelihoods of 120 million people worldwide.  So, it’s a major problem. 


[Image changes to show a harbour full of small fishing boats]


There are tens of thousands of fishing vessels, even if you only think about the really big ones around the world


[Image changes to show Asian women squatting on the ground and sorting fish into baskets]


and hundreds of thousands of little ones. 


[Image changes to show Maritime Police walking along the side of a ship and past the camera]


And so, deciding which vessels to look at, where to send the Maritime Police or Fisheries Inspectors as all these vessels are bringing their catch in to port is a really difficult problem. 


[Image changes to show Dr Chris Wilcox talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a Fisheries Inspector climbing up a ramp on the wharf and past the camera]


What we developed was an automated system that basically takes all the data that’s available to Fisheries Managers and sifts through it to look through patterns.  The Fisheries Managers are actually limited in their capacity. 


[Image changes to show a rear view of a policeman looking at a fishing vessel]


So, they face expensive data and they face too much data


[Image changes to show a fishing net in the sea and then the image changes to show two fishing boats next to each other]


and so, we’re trying to develop statistical algorithms to help them get information from what they either have or could get cheaply. 


[Image changes to show women squatting on the ground cleaning fish]


We’re the leaders in this space at the moment in that sort of statistical application. 


[Image changes to show Dr Chris Wilcox talking to the camera]


Ultimately if we reduce the amount of illegal fishing, everyone from, you know someone in a remote community in the developing world fishing in a canoe, all the way through to a big industrial company that is part of Australia’s economy benefits from less illegal fishing.  And obviously it makes the jobs of Fisheries Managers and other people involved in regulating this system much easier. 


[Music plays and CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]




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Vessel tracking data

We have developed an analytical system to classify fishing behaviour, including separating fishing, transiting, anchoring and other behaviours of interests.

It can be applied to any type of vessel tracking data, including VMS, AIS, and even low-cost GPS loggers, and is already being used internationally. It generates fishing patterns, locations of potential violations, and estimation of total fishing effort by region. It can also compare data to identify misreporting from vessels.

Visualisation and detection

We can visualise vessel tracking data through our web-based tool, RShippy. The program can query individual vessel tracks, and set alerts for behaviours or vessels of interest. The platform is underpinned by detailed statistical analysis for high-power data manipulation and advanced analytical tools in a freely available software package.

Our research can also assist with identifying a number of common illegal fishing behaviours such as the unauthorized deployment of fish aggregating devices (FADS) and transhipment of catch between vessels, by using the behaviour of ships based on GPS tracking data to infer the chance of illegal activities, even when they can’t be directly observed.

Capacity building

We are working with national and international partners to upskill fisheries management and staff in the detection of IUU fishing activities. We are providing the analytical tools and technological innovations needed to build capacity to help inform decision making around the allocation of surveillance and enforcement resources.

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