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Poacher Profiling: Combating Illegal Fishing With Science

Nov 13, 2014 06:37 PM EST

A new United Nations report recently revealed that the world is doing well to protect valuable environments, with 3.4 percent of the world's oceans currently protected by legislation. However, enforcing protection laws remains a problem for world nations, especially when it comes to protecting fisheries. Now a team of researchers is claiming that they have a few ways to improve things.

According to a study recently published in Oryx: the International Journal of Conservation, enforcing fishery protection laws is heavily dependent on knowing when and where illegal fishing has occurred, especially in the case of large off-shore marine parks.

"The distances to these areas can be very large. They are a long way from prying eyes and quite often the regulations are such that you have to actually catch people illegally fishing to prosecute them," study author Joshua Cinner, at James Cook University, explained in a recent release. "It can be extremely difficult for authorities to catch illegal fishers in the act."

In an attempt to find a way to address this problem, Cinner and his colleagues looked into various forms of what can best be described as fish poacher "profiling" - predicting the pattern and timing of illegal fishing in protected waters.

According to the study, the research team examined five years' worth of data on the World Heritage-listed Cocos Island National Park, a marine protected area in the Pacific that is closest to Costa Rica.

The region is a whopping 300 miles off the Costa Rican mainland, making policing of these protected waters relatively difficult.

Based on records, the researchers were able identify illegal fishing patterns and predict both when and where illegal fishing was likely to happen. They also highlighted poaching "hotspots" - areas that warrant special attention during various seasons.

"Using a targeted approach helps authorities catch and deter illegal fishers, while saving money on patrols," researcher Bob Pressey explained.

"Rather than just hoping you can catch illegal fishers effectively by random patrols, we have used previous patrols to look for patterns which tell us when and where people fish illegally," added Cinner.

The team now hopes that a similar approach can be used in other protected areas, such as the United State's massive marine reserve that covers nearly 790,000 square miles of ocean.

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