Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Sea Change: Collaboration Aims to Strengthen Fisheries Intelligence


A collaboration of organizations is bringing more data, technology and analytics to the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Global Fishing Watch, the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network, and Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) joined forces to establish the Joint Analytical Cell (JAC), which aims to provide lower-income coastal nations greater access to fisheries intelligence, data analysis and capacity-building assistance to tackle sea crimes.

TMT, a nonprofit organization that provides fisheries intelligence to countries and organizations, is well-established in West and East Africa, and Global Fishing Watch is committed to building relationships in the region. The International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

There is no cost to coastal nations interested in accessing the JAC.

“What is expected is that they commit personnel to learn and operate with the JAC and share data that can enhance the analysis and drive improved compliance,” Tony Long, chief executive officer of Global Fishing Watch, told ADF in an email. “They can also help us advocate for wider use by promoting their experience within international networks.”

According to Long, the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea and the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission have expressed interest in the JAC.

“At the national level, we have work underway in Senegal, Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire and Kenya to support their work to strengthen port controls using Vessel Viewer, a new fishing vessel history tool developed by Global Fishing Watch and TMT that provides information on a vessel’s identity, fishing activity, port visits and transshipments,” Long said.

Trawlers are known to turn off their Automatic Identification Systems to avoid detection when fishing in prohibited areas. They’ve also been known to change vessels’ names and use open registries to flag a foreign-owned and operated fishing vessel into an African registry to fish in local waters. There is currently little oversight of open registries, which are online.

Since the JAC was launched in June, it has welcomed Skylight, a maritime monitoring product from the Allen Institute for AI, a research organization founded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Long said more agencies are expected to join the JAC in the coming months.

“By opening up access to data, technology and analytics at scale, this unique collaboration will strengthen fisheries management worldwide and support effective action to end the scourge of IUU fishing,” Long told ADF.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has menaced coastal African nations for decades. China’s distant-water fishing fleet typically targets West Africa but is increasingly present in East African waters. China is the world’s worst IUU offender, according to IUU Fishing Index.

Other foreign fleets stalk African seas, decimating fish populations by overfishing and implementing destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling and blast fishing. Dwindling fish populations lead to loss of income for local artisanal fishermen who have depended on the seas for generations.

“The establishment of the [JAC] marks a sea change in fisheries intelligence and analysis,” Mark Young, executive director of the International Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network, said in a news release. “It will set a precedent for a global shift toward greater use of open data, data analytics and integrated technology to provide greater transparency of activities occurring in the maritime domain and strengthen fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance efforts.”

The JAC will provide “actionable data” and “credible intelligence” to improve fisheries management, Young added.

Duncan Copeland, executive director at TMT, said the JAC’s accessibility, as well as enhanced fisheries personnel training, should help coastal nations more successfully combat illegal fishing.

“State and non-State actor cooperation and collaboration are essential, and the Joint Analytical Cell has been formed to enable this objective,” Copeland said in a news release.

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