Protecting Our Oceans

Protecting our wild fisheries through digital surveillance of our precious oceans.

Project Overview

Updated October 16, 2023.

The Problem

Humanity has long relied on the world’s five oceans to sustain life as well as support marine transportation, tourism, fishing and energy generation.

Together, these oceans generate goods and services worth $2.5 trillion every year, enough to make them the seventh largest economy on the planet.

However, the fisheries and aquaculture sectors that provide food across the globe and livelihoods for almost 12 per cent of the world’s population are under threat from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This activity costs the ocean economy more than $23 billion a year and endangers the sustainability of marine wildlife and the fishing industry.

Illegal fishing is typically done by ‘dark vessels’, which do not broadcast their location or appear in public monitoring systems. The threat to fish stocks is real and it is growing. Currently about 30 per cent of all fish stocks are overfished, and about 60 per cent are fully fished. Unreported and undetected ocean traffic also pose human rights, human trafficking and maritime border security issues.

Protection of our oceans relies on self-reporting by vessels – where they are from, what they are catching and whether they have the right to fish in their location. Dark vessels avoid detection to commit their crimes and are aided by a lack of a comprehensive detection system to locate them.

How We Are Solving It

This project applies 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 Result

This project developed high precision software to identify illegal fishing ships, or “dark vessels” for MDA’s Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) system. Using data from a combination of remote sensing satellites, this project enhanced existing ship detection and tracking technology with an ability to identify offending dark vessels by applying novel machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to advanced space-based data. In a closed demonstration setting, the project validated the behavior detection capabilities in the identification of dark vessels, and recognition of behavior patterns consistent with illegal fishing. The project also developed a new 3D immersive interface prototype to help analysts better view, understand and interpret the vast range of data and analytic outputs produced by the DVD system.

In early 2021, MDA was awarded a 3-year contract with the Government of Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Defence Research and Development Canada to detect vessels engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In October 2023, ​the Philippines signed an agreement enabling its access to data from the vessel monitoring system, including monitoring of unidentified vessels at sea. With the Indo-Pacific region being home to the majority of the world’s coral reefs and including the largest diversity of fish, illegal and unregulated fishing is a major problem across the Philippine archipelago. This development marks a major impact in DIGITAL’s co-investments towards tackling global issues, with illegal fishing being cited as the world’s sixth largest crime by the United Nations.





Project Lead

  • mdaupdatelogo e1632702369570

Project Partners

  • VizworX Logo e1632702569140
  • sfu@2x e1632697382895

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