Windward interviewed Bruce Vitor, Associate Director for Research Innovation at FIU’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy (JGI) and organizer of the IUU Fishing Conference that occurred on November 2 at Florida International University (FIU). In addition to supporting the JGI Director in advancing the academic partnership between FIU and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Bruce also provides leadership in National Security and Strategy Development with various U.S. and international partners.
Bruce’s insightful answers provide a helpful window into what is happening in the quickly evolving world of IUU and we are grateful for the time he granted Windward.
SOUTHCOM, in conjunction with FIU, convened senior U.S. government leaders and experts from across the government, non-profits, civil society, academia, and private industry at the university’s campus for discussions on how to better understand information sharing initiatives and challenges, and leverage emerging technologies to counter illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and improve monitoring of the maritime domain.
- What made you decide to organize an IUU fishing event now?
BV: Ambassador Jean Manes, Civilian Deputy to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), suggested that FIU and SOUTHCOM co-host this IUU fishing conference. FIU and SOUTHCOM have a strong relationship, due to the Academic Outreach initiative that we maintain. IUU fishing is one of the top three challenges highlighted by SOUTHCOM’s coastal partner nations, as well as transnational organized crime and cybersecurity.
The FIU conference was intended to build on a previous conference – The First High-Level Intergovernmental Consultation on Multilateral Cooperation to Enhance Marine Protection and Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, hosted by the Wilson Center in October. During that conference, Under Secretary Fernandez recommended that the CMAR countries conduct four working groups on:
- Information Sharing and Technology
- Enforcement and Associated Enabling Frameworks
- Marine Governance, including Scientific Research and Capacity-Building
- Institutionalization of CMAR and brief results during the Our Ocean Conference on March 2-3 in Panama
The conference’s main goal was to bring industry leaders together to focus on sharing information to help combat IUU fishing. It focused on existing efforts, new initiatives, and new and emerging technologies that address challenges and gaps identified throughout the conference.
2. Do you feel that the landscape has changed in the last couple of years? If so, how?
BV: While I have only been looking at the problem of IUU fishing closely for the last couple of years, it feels like there is a greater understanding and awareness by the public at large of the significant impacts of IUU fishing.
While the environmental impacts are huge, there is a growing realization of the significant economic and socio-political impacts that have national security implications for the U.S. and its partners. In addition to more agreements and policies, such as the recent 5-Year Strategy by the Maritime Safety, Security and Fisheries Enforcement Act (M-SAFE) Interagency Working Group that includes more than 20 U.S. government agencies, other partner nations are increasing collaboration and information sharing. Technology to track dark vessels continues to improve, and greater efforts are being made to hold beneficial owners of fishing vessels guilty of IUU fishing accountable.
3. What response did you receive from the ecosystem when you first created this event?
BV: Due to the urgency of this issue, the conference was quickly put together in less than a month. Everyone was excited to participate, as shown by the great turnout – over 60 participants in-person and another 30 virtually from across the USG, private industry, academia, and non-profit organizations.
4. What were your main takeaways from the event?
BV: There were many takeaways from the event, but here are a few highlights:
- Context: context is key in examining maritime risk. Vessels that use AIS inherently are not necessarily good, and vessels that turn off their AIS are not inherently bad, and we need to look at other factors, such as the length of time between port visits, etc.
- Technology/innovation: technology exists for greater visibility and transparency, the ability to share information across oceans exists
- AI integration: AI is ready to be used today and could be used to augment analysts’ day-to-day workflows to support decision-making
- Automation is key in sifting through data and turning data into actionable intelligence
- FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Transshipment: an important step forward in creating a landscape that provides better control monitoring of transshipment as an activity, especially when it takes place out on the high seas:
- Transshipment represents one of the last black holes in the seafood supply chain
- Regulations bring market forces to address IUU fishing, helping to develop the internal capacity to address this issue
- Enforcement: strong rules must be enforced to turn the tables on those engaging in IUU fishing:
- Work with partners bilaterally and unilaterally to adopt and implement stronger rules and build enforcement regimes
- Engage flag registries, a big missing piece in enforcement
- Based on the insights raised at the event and from your experience, what approach should stakeholders adopt to fight the IUU fishing threat?
BV: I would summarize the key steps as follows:
- Increase information sharing and collaboration
- Leverage big data analytics
- Improve supply chain transparency from “bait to plate”
- Introduce a “whole-of-society” approach to combating IUU fishing that includes government agencies (U.S. and partner nations), civil society, academia, non-profits, and private industry
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the number one maritime threat is IUU fishing, replacing piracy. Conferences like this one are an important step towards uniting entities to work together and combat IUU fishing. As mentioned above, context and understanding are crucial elements in knowing which vessels are high-risk IUU fishing vessels and which aren’t. Deceptive shipping practices are evolving, and bad actors are becoming more sophisticated, often “hiding in plain sight.” Windward’s IUU fishing model can shed light on many of the issues raised at this event, providing important context and understanding that is currently missing.
Efforts to fight IUU fishing are about more than just fish: it’s about national security, labor rights, and most importantly, people.
Thanks again to Bruce for sharing his valuable perspective!