Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

CLS, a global company and a subsidiary of the French Space Agency (CNES) and CNP, a European investment firm, is working with partners APC and ECR on project STARFISH to trial an innovative tracking system which will provide data on small scale fisheries (SSF).

The information gathered, which they say is for both fishermen and authorities, will offer “insight to support the effective sustainable management of fisheries resources.”

STARFISH is one of 26 blue economy projects selected for funding by the EU Commission under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund, and part of €19.1million EU funding to accelerate “sustainable development” of the Blue Economy through innovative means, and to support its maritime policy goals.

SSF account for 50% of the global catch and 95% of the world’s fishers and yet, very little is known about how much is caught, which species and where.

According to CLS, “SSF also account for much of the world’s unregulated catch and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) has stated its intention to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by 2020, but the measures used to regulate large scale industrial fisheries simply won’t work for local and traditional SSF around the world.”

Michel Dejean, Head of CLS Fisheries Division, says: “It’s increasingly recognised that the ocean’s resources are finite and fisheries around the world—of any size—need to adopt sustainable practices if they are to have any sort of long-term future.

“Small scale fishers are incredibly diverse, they need systems which will empower the traditional communities, few traditional fishers can afford the technical equipment used by industrial fisheries and most have been fishing in the same way for generations.

“Any attempt to monitor their activities must be collaborative”.

STARFISH uses a VMS terminal with a call for assistance button, and fisheries monitoring software with Big Data capabilities handles the information gathered from massive numbers of traditional vessels. The apps have been specifically developed to support SSF fishermen, providing them with the data to fish more efficiently and effectively.

They currently cover geopositioning and include navigation maps, VMS track visualisation, real-time positioning on a sea map as well as the chance to create ‘point of interest’ at sea which could mark a personal preference, specific fishing zones or places to avoid, and offline maps for when the fisher is out of coastal range or in new territories. 

Equally important, there’s a range of apps which provide comprehensive catch reporting, noting species, size and where caught – clearly demonstrating to authorities, fisheries managers and export markets that the fish has not been caught in illegal zones or marine protected areas. The reporting enables fishers to market their catch as ‘locally sourced’. 

Further apps are in development and will be refined according to the fisher’s feedback, to potentially include weather bulletins, marketplace information or even reporting for invasive species. The assistance button can be linked to the fisheries monitoring centre, to the fishermen’s family or the local fishing association, offering an added safety measure for this vulnerable group.

CLS says that the STARFISH project aims to support SSF communities by making digital technologies accessible, combining CLS’s expertise in design, engineering, and the fisheries data chain, with local partners APC in Greece and ECR in Mauritania, both of whom have unique local knowledge and contacts with artisanal fisheries, port authorities, and local fisheries managers.

Following the break imposed by COVID lockdowns, workshops are now starting up to recruit Greek fishermen to join the project: Sept 19 in Alexandroupolis, Greece and Sept 26 in Volos, Greece. In October, the devices will be installed onboard and fishermen will begin testing the apps. Insights gained from the fishermen’s feedback will then be used to support realistic and effective sustainable fisheries management.

Nikos Anagnopoulos, head of APC and fisheries consultant to the EU, adds: “This project will test the device in real-time, in real ocean conditions, with the structure of a Mediterranean fleet. The Greek SSF fleet is the biggest. With the user feedback collected, the project partners can further refine the system to the needs of these fishermen.

“I also think it’s important for awareness and fishermen engagement because there will be many workshops and surveys to get their feedback”.

The STARFISH project is very much focused on gathering feedback to ensure the products are refined to meet the fisher’s needs and secure their buy-in, says CLS. The project includes workshops, repeated questionnaires/surveys and further seminars at the end of the project to share feedback.

CLS has also approached the SUREFISH EU-funded project to collaborate and explore how their traceability mobile Apps could be integrated into the CLS Apps Store and tested during STARFISH.

Overall, they say, the project hopes to clearly demonstrate to the fishermen involved, that digital technologies like STARFISH can add value to their business operations, based on local and sustainably-sourced seafood supply chains and direct or short-circuit sales.