Empowering high seas governance with satellite vessel tracking data
Between 1950 and 1989, marine fisheries catch in the open-ocean and deep-sea beyond 200 nautical miles from shore increased by a factor of more than 10. While high seas catches have since plateaued, fishing effort continues to increase linearly. The combination of increasing effort and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has led to overfishing of target stocks and declines in biodiversity. To improve management, there have been numerous calls to increase monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS). However, MCS has been unevenly implemented, undermining efforts to sustainably use high seas and straddling stocks and protect associated species and ecosystems. The United Nations General Assembly is currently negotiating a new international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The new treaty offers an excellent opportunity to address discrepancies in how MCS is applied across regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). This paper identifies ways that automatic identification system (AIS) data can inform MCS on the high seas and thereby enhance conservation and management of biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions. AIS data can be used to (i) identify gaps in governance to underpin the importance of a holistic scope for the new agreement; (ii) monitor area-based management tools; and (iii) increase the capacity of countries and RFMOs to manage via the technology transfer. Any new BBNJ treaty should emphasize MCS and the role of electronic monitoring including the use of AIS data, as well as government–industry–civil society partnerships to ensure critically important technology transfer and capacity building.