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Fishing vessel connectivity improves crew welfare and stock sustainability

Fri 22 Sep 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Fishing vessel connectivity improves crew welfare and stock sustainability
Catch data can be electronically reported over a broadband link

Cobham Satcom director Jens Ewerling explains why Asian fishing companies should invest in broadband for their vessels and crew

New fishing vessel connectivity across Asia will allow a traditional industry to respond more efficiently and rapidly to global consumer markets and ensure a sustainable future. Inmarsat and Cobham Satcom have combined their experience to introduce Sailor Fleet One to fishing companies in the region. This enables fishing vessels to connect to online applications and crew to use voice services over Inmarsat’s L-band satellite coverage.

China is the world’s largest producer, but southeast Asian fisheries in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam are major regional players. There are more than 200,000 fishing vessels registered in China and another 2,460 vessels for deepwater fishing. The Chinese government is eager to transform the industry with greater levels of vessel connectivity.

Cobham Satcom director of maritime broadband Jens Ewerling expects this can be achieved using its Sailor terminals and Inmarsat’s satellite coverage. The connectivity can also help improve the security and sustainability of fishing stocks.

Fishing also faces advancing regulatory requirements to record and report catch data, with national authorities progressively adopting rules to combat the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Implementation is still in its early stages and mainly focused on larger vessels. However, governments and industry stakeholders are looking to widen roll-out to smaller tonnage due to customer demand and requirements for traceability and transparency in target export markets. Initiatives in driving smaller fishing vessels to report catch data is already underway in Thailand and Indonesia. Mr Ewerling expects that the experience gained will be applied by neighbouring nations soon.

The availability of reliable, real-time connectivity will be pivotal to the success of these projects, he explained. A pilot involving Thai fishing vessels earlier this year tested scalable platforms for electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) systems. The trial, based around the Fleet One platform looked to demonstrate true electronic end-to-end traceability and supply-chain management. Fleet One is also capable of fulfilling the electronic reporting requirements intended to tackle and clamp down on IUU fishing practices.

Sailor Fleet One is a low-cost entry point, which provides reliable voice calling and basic internet connectivity, said Mr Ewerling. With data speeds up to 100 kbps, it offers sufficient bandwidth for basic email, mobile web browsing and social media.

The terminal is easy to install and the antenna connection to the below deck equipment is straightforward enough that keen owners can handle the installation and maintenance themselves, Mr Ewerling explained.

Owners of fishing vessels operating at sea for longer periods and with larger crews are requesting higher bandwidths so that they can offer popular streaming services and access to social media.

Compliance requirements are designed to be as lightweight as possible to avoid placing an unreasonable burden on boat owners. After these have been taken care of, demand for connectivity is typically a function of crew size and an owner’s appetite for data-driven operations, said Mr Ewerling.

“Even online services designed and optimised for the mobile devices normally used by crew are crammed with images and video clips. Individually they do not devour much capacity but cumulatively it soon mounts up,” he adds. “The same can be said for frequent high-resolution weather updates to maximise catch or telemetry for monitoring machinery health to ensure availability.”

In these cases, a higher bandwidth capacity terminal and service, such as Sailor FleetBroadband or a Sailor 600 VSAT Ku, may prove a more appropriate solution.

“Catch logging and monitoring are essential to ensuring that quotas are not exceeded, especially now that authorities are taking a more aggressive stance in policing regulations and pursuing suspected transgressors,” said Mr Ewerling. “Lightweight and compact antennas provide fishing vessels with the hardware that means they can demonstrate the environmental best-practice that is crucial for accessing high-value markets.”

Connectivity can improve the wellbeing of fishing vessel crews and the wellbeing of the marine ecosystems, Mr Ewerling added. Most small-scale fishers use pole and line and handline to catch fish, which is recognised as more environmentally sustainable than indiscriminate purse seine employed by larger trawlers.

There is evidence already that technological solutions allowing small-scale fisheries to prove that they are fishing legally backed up by low-cost reliable connectivity will be part of the answer. Start-up companies are exploring the potential of blockchain technology and open-source smart inventory management systems and species scanners to trace yellowfin and skipjack tuna from catch to consumer.

Prototype systems and pilot projects involving non-government organisations and local fisheries are already underway. To reduce barriers to adoption, such systems allow fishing companies to feed catch details into the system simply transmitting small amounts of data or messages. Adding a Sailor Fleet One, FleetBroadband or VSAT system into the equation, would allow fishing vessels to file reports in remote areas with patchy or no terrestrial mobile network.