Canada’s new Dark Vessel Detection program is using cutting-edge satellite technology to find illegal fishing vessels that attempt to hide in plain sight stealing fish from waters around the world.

“Dark” vessels switch off their location transmitters to avoid detection so they can engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, called IUU.

IUU fishing is a major contributor to the decline of fish stocks and marine habitat destruction, which undermines the livelihoods of legitimate fish harvesters.

Now, the government’s Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in partnership with the Department of National Defense and MDA (Canada’s largest space technology manufacturer which owns RADARSAT-2), has launched a new program that has already led to significant fines on five foreign vessels.

The $7 million Dark Vessel Detection program uses satellite technology to locate and track vessels whose location transmitting devices have been switched off, sometimes in an attempt to evade monitoring, control and surveillance.

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada launched the pilot program this year to track dark vessels and is working with the Canadian Space Agency and NGOs to detect dark vessels in the Bahamas and Costa Rica. Its law enforcement partners include the Forum Fisheries Agency, which represents 15 fishing island nations in the Pacific, and the Ecuadorian Maritime Authority—home to the Galapagos Islands – a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The program provides state-of-the-art satellite data and analysis from MDA to small island nations and coastal states around the world where IUU fishing has a major impact on local economies and the health of fish stocks.

Identifying “dark” vessels from space will now allow these small island nations to focus their investigations and maximize their enforcement effort to protect their fish stocks.

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“Illegal fishing threatens the health of our fish stocks and takes resources away from hard-working, law-abiding fishers, said Bernadette Jordan, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. “We’re investing in one of the leading, most innovative systems on the planet to ensure our fish stocks are protected, our fisheries remain lucrative, and the law is upheld at sea.”

“This state-of-the-art system will help Ecuador and small island nations in the Pacific region respond to illegal fishing impacting the Galapagos Islands and the food and economic security of its people,” added Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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It is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for about 30 percent of all fishing activity worldwide, representing up to 26 million tons of fish caught annually at a cost to the global economy of more than $23 billion a year. Illegal fishing occurs both on the high seas and within the 200 mile limits of coastal states, which has an especially negative impact on coastal rural populations in vulnerable areas.

(Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

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