Partnering to protect our oceans and fish

Oceans around the world are in trouble, and that’s due in part to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This rampant activity costs the ocean economy more than $23 billion a year, endangers the sustainability of marine wildlife and the fishing industry, and negatively impacts local people who rely daily on fish for food and their livelihood. 

Illegal fishing is typically done by international ‘dark vessels’, which don’t broadcast their location or appear in public monitoring systems. The threat to fish stocks is real and it’s growing. About 30 per cent of all fish stocks are overfished and about 60 per cent are fully fished.  

Led by MDA in collaboration with VizworX and Simon Fraser University, the Protecting our Oceans project uses satellite monitoring, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and data visualization techniques such as virtual reality to recognize these vessels, blacklist them and ultimately prosecute the owners to protect our global fisheries and marine ecosystems.  

“The collaboration with our Supercluster partners is bringing new thinking and ideas into how to solve IUU fishing with the use of advanced technologies such as criminal behaviour analytics and immersive visualization,” says Keith Beckett, Chief Product Engineer at MDA.  

The efforts of our consortium are starting to pay off, building on the strong collaboration led by the Department of National Defence, Defence Research and Development, Global Affairs Canada, and MDA to detect vessels engaging in IUU fishing. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, working in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, awarded MDA a three-year contract to use made-in-Canada RADARSAT-2 and RADARSAT Constellation Mission satellite technologies, keeping watch over millions of square kilometers of ocean every day to detect vessels engaging in IUU fishing.  This work has already led to significant fines to five foreign vessels. 

The Dark Vessel Detection program will provide satellite data and analysis to the federal government in support of Ecuador – including surveillance around the ecologically fragile Galapagos Islands. MDA will also support the Forum Fisheries Agency, which represents 15 Pacific Island member states in the South Pacific. 

“Tragically, the vast majority of IUU fishing takes place in the waters of developing nations around the world, where subsistence fishing is critical to the local community, food security and economic development. These nations have little defence against the sheer number of fishing vessels operating at will wherever there are fish left to harvest,” Keith Beckett notes. “Our technology and innovations are enabling these nations to stand up for themselves, and to protect their environment and enabling sustainable fisheries.”  

Technology developed through the Protecting our Oceans project is projected to further enhance MDA’s maritime platform offering to better enable customers to protect the environment, food supply chains, maritime jobs, and to help deliver information to increase border security and tackle human rights violations.  

Learn more about Protecting our Oceans here.


Serving the world from its Canadian home and global offices, MDA is an international space mission partner and a robotics, satellite systems and geointelligence pioneer with a 50-year story of firsts on and above the Earth. With over 2,000 employees across Canada, the US and the UK, MDA is leading the charge towards viable Moon colonies, enhanced Earth observation, communication in a hyper-connected world, and more. With a track record of making space ambitions come true, MDA enables highly skilled people to continually push boundaries, tackle big challenges, and imagine solutions that inspire and endure to change the world for the better, on the ground and in the stars.