Government of Canada Takes the Fight Against Illegal Fishing to Outer Space

OTTAWA, ON – Today we mark the International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.

Globally, IUU fishing is a major contributor to declining fish stocks and marine habitat destruction. It is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for about 30 per cent of all fishing activity worldwide, representing up to 26 million tonnes 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.

That is why Canada has been working with our international partners, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and governments around the world to help combat IUU fishing. This year, we’ve aimed our sights even higher: outer space.

With support from the Canadian Space Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is using Canadian RADARSAT satellite imagery to help small island nations and developing coastal states in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, South America and Western Africa to identify and track “dark” vessels. These vessels represent a significant threat to global fish stocks and marine habitat, as the vessels operate without monitoring equipment—in the form of a GPS tracker—and do not wish to be tracked. Vessels without monitoring equipment pose a challenge for authorities to ensure compliance with fisheries regulations. Canada’s support allows recipient states to scan vast areas of ocean for potential threats, allowing limited patrol resources to be focused efficiently.

NGO partners—including OceanMind, The Nature Conservancy and WildAid Marine—provide additional support by conducting vessel data analysis, allowing recipient states to respond. This analytical support helps these governments track and identify “dark” vessels on satellite imagery, and better understand potential threats to their marine ecosystems.

Recently, Canada has partnered in The Bahamas with the Marine Action Partnership, providing additional support to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) in their efforts against IUU fishing. We have also partnered with the Costa Rican government and OceanMind on work which has already led to significant fines to five foreign vessels.  

This year has also been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with effects that continue to ripple around the world. As we navigate through this period of uncertainty, Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to maintain all essential operations, and has increased efforts with its international partners to fight illegal fishing. The safety and security of our staff is paramount, and we are finding new ways maintain and improve our operations so we can continue honouring our international commitments.

Since 2017, the Government of Canada has honoured its commitment to fight IUU fishing by: