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Granting net access

New fishing vessel connectivity acrossAsia will allow a traditional industry to respond more nimbly to globalconsumer markets and ensure a sustainable future, according to Cobham SATCOM

Fishand fishery products represent one of the most-traded type of goods in theworld food sector, with about 78% of seafood products estimated to be exposedto international trade competition.  Withglobal fishery production in 2014 recorded as 93.4 million tonnes by the UnitedNations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 81.5 million tonnes came frommarine waters and 11.9 million tonnes from inland waters. China is the world’slargest producer, but South East Asian fisheries in Indonesia, Thailand, thePhilippines and Vietnam are major regional players.

“Whilefishing may be one of the world’s oldest occupations, it is also a big businessbeing driven to grow and modernise fast,” observes Jens Ewerling, Director,Maritime Broadband, Cobham SATCOM. “Increased demand for more protein in theChinese diet means that government views the expansion of the fishingindustry—in particular, the deep-water fishing component— as a food securityissue.”

With200,000 fishing vessels registered in China in 2014, and another 2,460 for deep-water,the Chinese government is eager to transform the industry into one offering anattractive career for a new generation that expects the same hyper-connectivityas contemporaries in Tokyo, Los Angeles or London.

Today,working practices for fishermen in Asia differ greatly to those in Europe. Itis routine for Chinese fisherman to go out to sea for 25-30 days at a time,which is much longer than, say, their Spanish or Portuguese counterparts wouldexpect or tolerate. “Such durations amplify the need for decent connectivity onboats,” suggests Ewerling. Today Cobham SATCOM offers a range of satellitecommunications solutions with different capabilities and benefits that will linkfishing vessels to the connected economy.

Fishingalso 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 as defined by the FAO. Implementation is still in its early stages and to date hasfocused mainly on larger vessels. However, with customer demand and importrequirements for traceability and transparency in target export markets climbing,governments and industry stakeholders are looking to widen roll-out to smallertonnage, with initiatives already underway in Thailand and Indonesia. It isexpected that the experience gained will be applied by neighbouring nations soon.

Theavailability of reliable, real-time connectivity will be pivotal to the successof these projects. A pilot involving Thai fishingvessels earlier this year tested scalable platforms for electronic catch documentationand traceability (eCDT) systems. The trial, based around the Inmarsat Fleet Oneplatform looked to demonstrate true electronic end-to-end traceability andsupply-chain management. Fleet One is also capable of fulfilling theelectronic reporting requirements intended to tackle and clamp down on IUUfishing practices.

SAILORFleet One is a low-cost entry point, which provides reliable voice calling andbasic Internet connectivity on Inmarsat's Fleet One service. With data speedsup to 100kbps, it offers sufficient bandwidth for basic email, mobile web-browsingand social media. Because the SAILOR Fleet One user terminal is small andlight, it is easy to install. Connecting the antenna to the below deckequipment is straightforward enough that keen owners can handle theinstallation and maintenance themselves. Combined with reliable, competitivelypriced airtime, SAILOR Fleet One is highly suited to the needs of smallerfishing boats. 

However,owners of fishing vessels operating at sea for longer periods and with largercrews are already requesting higher bandwidths so that they can offer popularstreaming services and access to social media around the clock.  Compliance requirements are designed to be aslightweight as possible to avoid placing unreasonable burden on boat owners.After these have been taken care of, demand for connectivity is typically afunction of crew size and an owner’s appetite for data-driven operations. 

“Evenonline services designed and optimised for the mobile devices normally used bycrew are crammed with images and video clips. Individually they don’t devourmuch capacity but cumulatively it soon mounts up,” Ewerling says. “The same canbe said for frequent high-resolution weather updates to maximise catch ortelemetry for monitoring machinery health to ensure availability.” In thesecases, a more generous SAILOR FleetBroadband or a more advanced VSAT-basedsolution with greater bandwidth, such as the SAILOR 600 VSAT Ku, may prove amore appropriate solution.

“Catchlogging and monitoring are essential to ensuring that quotas are not exceededespecially now that authorities are taking a more aggressive stance in policingregulations and pursuing suspected transgressors,” remarks Ewerling. “Lightweightand compact antennas provide fishing vessels with the hardware that means theycan demonstrate the environmental best-practice that is crucial for accessinghigh-value markets in the U.S. and Europe”.

Connectivityis also a vital tool in efforts aimed at addressing the industry’s human rightsrecord, Ewerling points out. “In recent times, ethically questionable labourpractices and cases of outright abuse have come to light. Buyers in developedmarkets do not want to be tarnished by links with suppliers associated withsuch practices. Better connectivity enables fishers to increase thetransparency of their operations at sea.”

InIndonesia, where fish is also vital for food security and livelihoods, it isalso viewed increasingly as an untapped source of export revenue. However,here, most fish are caught by small scale fishers, who are locked out fromglobal markets because they lack the resources to comply with regulationsintended to improve transparency and sustainability. Instead, the catch fromIndonesia’s six million or so small-scale fishers is usually sold locally and providessubsistence for coastal communities.

“Afish is most valuable the moment it is caught,” observes Ewerling. “After that,its quality quickly deteriorates. Exclusion from the global market is asignificant missed opportunity and means the fishing communities themselves arelosing out. In an indirect way, greater connectivity and the need for greateraccountability could also unlock potential for smaller operators.”

Notonly is it a missed opportunity to improve the wellbeing of the fishers andtheir families, but also the wellbeing of the marine ecosystems, Ewerling adds.Most small-scale fishers use pole and line and handline to catch fish, which isrecognised as more environmentally sustainable than indiscriminate purse seineemployed by larger trawlers.

Thereis evidence already that technological solutions allowing small scale fisheriesto prove that they are fishing legally backed up by low-cost reliableconnectivity will be part of the answer. Start-up companies are exploring thepotential of block chain technology and open-source smart inventory managementsystems and species scanners to trace yellowfin and skipjack tuna from catch toconsumer. Prototype systems and pilot projects involving NGOs and local fishersare already underway. To reduce barriers to adoption, such systems allowfishers to feed catch details into the system simply transmitting small amountof data or messages. Adding a SAILOR Fleet One, FleetBroadband or VSAT system intothe equation, would allow fishers to file reports in remote areas with patchyor no terrestrial mobile network.

“Inthe past, the idea of having satellite communications on a commercial fishingvessel would have met with laughter,” says Ewerling. “However, it has evolvedfrom a nice-to-have amenity to a necessity – analogous to the smartphone inyour pocket.”  


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