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The Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) Program – MDA/DFO program takes aim at illegal fishing

#GeoIgnite2021 MDA Spotlight Content

Canada has always been a leader in the geospatial community, from Roger Tomlinson’s pioneering work creating the first computerized GIS in 1963 to the leadership we provide with RADARSAT and other programs today. Canadian schools offer some of the best GIS programs in the world, and our geospatial industry is constantly producing original technology resulting in progressive breakthroughs. This innovation often comes from cooperative endeavours between the public and private sectors.

At events like the upcoming GeoIgnite conference in April, the Canadian private and public sectors connect to discuss issues and opportunities together.

An example of fruitful collaborations that GeoIgnite hopes to “spark” is the recent partnership between MDA, a platinum sponsor of GeoIgnite, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) Program

MDA and the DFO are working together aimed at reducing illegal fishing. This project will work to remove illegally caught fish from the Canadian market, improving Canada’s seafood supply chain and protecting critical revenue and resources for the Canadian economy.

The birth of fishery management

Most people who live on the East Coast of Canada remember the crash of cod fishing in the early 1990s, where Northern Cod biomass fell to 1% of previous levels. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) subsequently declared a moratorium on the cod fishery that had provided a way of life for East-coasters for over 500 years. While this example is particularly close to home here in Canada, overfishing has been causing problems worldwide for decades. 

Although fishery management was an issue as early as the 1950s, it didn’t begin to gain momentum until the ’70s, with investment in commercial fisheries doubling in Canada throughout the decade. As awareness for proper fishing practices and overfishing rose, the cod crash of the early 1990’s deepened scientists understanding of how fish stocks react and the time it can take them to recover after decades of overfishing. From decades of turmoil came the first modern fishery management programs, resulting in a crackdown on illegal fishing and overfishing worldwide.

The incredible growth leading to the collapse of the cod fisheries on the east coast of Canada in 1992.

The path to a solution

With the advent of fish farming and a general trend towards sustainable seafood and conscious food choices, many countries are working to clean up their seafood supply chains. While traditional methods include inspection of vessels to ensure they remain within the legal catch limits, many countries still struggle with having illegally caught seafood finding its way into supply chains. 

New technological advances are hoping to provide a solution to these issues. With remote sensing technology, governments are optimistic that they can identify and track vessels fishing illegally that have “gone dark”, turning off their location devices while in restricted areas.

MDA and DFO Dark Vessel Detection

MDA has been awarded a three-year contract with the Government of Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Defence Research and Development Canada to use satellite technology to detect vessels engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) program will work to locate and track vessels that have switched off their location transmitting devices in an attempt to evade monitoring, control and surveillance. 

A illustration showing how the Dark Vessel Detection software will work to identify illegal fishing vessels.

The DVD program will use data collected from RADARSAT-2, combined with space-based radio frequency collection and geo-spectrum analysis to locate the. MDA’s approach will rely on advanced analytics, multi-sensor data fusion platform and expertise in maritime domain awareness. The program builds upon the groundwork laid by the smaller-scale DFO program that took place in Barbados and Costa Rica this past June and fulfils part of Canada’s $11.6 million commitment to improving ocean health made at the G7 meeting in 2018.

MDA CEO Mike Greenley recently highlighted their commitment to “working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to … help Canada contribute to international efforts aimed at combatting illegal fishing.” The DVD program allows the Government of Canada to support Ecuador and will include surveillance around the Galapagos Islands. This program is also associated with the Forum Fisheries Agency, which represents 15 Pacific Island member states in the South Pacific.

Canada’s seafood supply chain status

In a November 2020 report by Oceana, it was estimated that Canadian fishers lose an estimated 379 million in revenue each year to the illegal seafood trade. For an industry that is still recovering from the effects of overfishing, cracking down on illegal fisheries will go a long way to supporting their businesses for years to come. They attribute these losses to hidden costs and opportunity lost to those who aren’t following the rules. This DFO program, in partnership with MDA, takes important steps to not only protect the oceans and ecosystems but also offers protection and stability to the fishers and their families, as well as the Canadian economy. 

An ad from Oceana’s latest campaign against seafood fraud and illegal fishing.

Using remote sensing to create tools that can recognize vessels that fish illegally, deter and blacklist them and ultimately lead to the prosecution of the owners will go a long way to protecting our global fisheries and marine ecosystems. On the tightrope of protecting natural resources while also maintaining strong economic opportunities, cutting down on illegal fishing will strengthen the Canadian economy, while also preserving our precious resources for generations to come. This project is an important step towards improving the ocean’s health, protecting vulnerable ecosystems, and improving food security for all those who depend on the oceans.