DOD Announces AI Competition to Detect, Defeat Illegal Fishing

DOD Announces AI Competition to Detect, Defeat Illegal Fishing

By David Vergun/DOD News
July 30, 2021

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The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and Global Fishing Watch (GFW), a nonprofit that uses satellites to provide a view of global fishing activities, announced July 22 a new xView3 Challenge to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The xView3 is a competition with a $150,000 prize that’s intended to attract skilled developers who like a challenge and are adept at exploring novel ways to harness satellite-based synthetic aperture radar data to detect “dark” vessels, which don’t publicly broadcast their location or appear in public monitoring systems.

Synthetic aperture radar can penetrate clouds and darkness to reveal dark vessels’ locations and activities. Winning machine learning algorithms must be able to automatically detect and characterize dark vessels, according to a DIU news release.

The U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Coast Guard, allies, partners, and nonprofit organizations are all interested in rapid detection of IUU fishing activity to mitigate these damages, said Vice Admiral Scott Buschman, U.S. Coast Guard deputy commandant for operations.

“IUU fishing undermines a nation’s sovereignty, threatens its economic security, and weakens global rules-based order,” continued Vice Adm. Buschman. “The United States can provide global leadership to combat IUU fishing by creating partnerships and collaborative, durable networks. Our collective efforts start with maritime domain awareness.”

The challenge will provide competitors with one of the largest open-access maritime datasets ever derived from SAR satellites. The scalability of automated vessel detection combined with SAR imagery will dramatically enhance situational awareness of IUU fishing activity and, as a result, lead to more focused patrols and interception of suspected offenders.

“Our goal with this series of challenges is to attract new ideas to some of the most important global safety and security problems, as well as putting the new operational solutions in place at the speed of relevance,” said Michael Brown, DIU director.

The prize for this challenge is provided by DIU and GFW and will be awarded to U.S. or international participants — individuals or companies — with the best performing algorithms, according to the DIU news release.

IUU fishing is a threat to food security, marine ecosystem health, as well as geopolitical stability. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, IUU fishing accounts for 20 percent of the global seafood catch — and up to 50 percent in some areas.

DIU and GFW will share the open-source algorithms, reflecting the organizations’ vision of harnessing open-source, low-cost data to advance maritime domain awareness and collaboration among governments, nonprofits and academia to combat IUU fishing, according to the DIU news release.

“We must cooperate and communicate among enforcement authorities and share pertinent information, including with nongovernment entities that share our objectives and can help disseminate information quickly to our network of partners,” Vice Adm. Buschman said.

Tracking data from the publicly available automatic identification system — a collision avoidance system that constantly transmits a vessel’s location at sea — is an increasingly valuable tool to monitor fishing activity; however, vessels are known to switch off or tamper with their AIS devices to hide illicit activities, Vice Adm. Buschman noted.

“We are excited to partner with the Defense Innovation Unit, Global Fishing Watch, and the U.S. Coast Guard on the xView3 competition to be on the cutting edge of the fight against IUU fishing,” said James Landon, director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Office of Law Enforcement. “Together, we can leverage technology to tackle this pressing issue and develop solutions that strengthen our dark vessel detection capabilities, allowing us to improve the interdiction and prosecution of IUU fishing.”

“This contest is a great opportunity for us to advance state-of-the-art technology for detecting dark vessels,” said Paul Woods, GFW chief innovation officer. “We can help eliminate illegal fishing by making the best solutions open and applying them to a global, free data set that enables other actors to also benefit from these highly scalable tools. The more people that can use these tools, the faster we will reduce the scope for bad actors to operate in our ocean.”