Customers & Industries: MRAG Asia Pacific

Quantifying Illegal Fishing in the Pacific Islands with Palisade's @RISK

  • Industry: Environment
  • Product(s): @RISK
  • Application: Quantifying Illegal Fishing

Summary

MRAG AP used @RISK to estimate the volume, species composition and value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Pacific Islands tuna fisheries. The outcome of their study provided recommendations on ways to strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance arrangements, to help minimize the future financial impact of IUU on Pacific Island economies.

The main benefit of the Palisade software was how it enabled us to easily deal with the high levels of uncertainty surrounding illegal fishing. The level of available information was very limited for many risks, due to the secretive nature of IUU fishing. However, after we generated the ‘best estimate’ and minimum and maximum range values, @RISK enabled us to account for uncertainty in the underlying information, and produce probabilistic estimates of IUU activity.
Duncan Souter, CEO, MRAG Asia Pacific

MRAG Asia Pacific (MRAG AP) is an independent fisheries and aquatic resource consulting company based in Brisbane, Australia. An international leader in the field of aquatic resource consulting, the company is dedicated to promoting sustainable use of natural resources through sound integrated management policies and practices. MRAG AP used Palisade’s @RISK software to estimate the volume, species composition and value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Pacific Islands tuna fisheries. The outcome of their study provided recommendations on ways to strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance arrangements, to help minimize the future financial impact of IUU on Pacific Island economies. Their work was covered in the report, Towards the Quantification of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing in the Pacific Islands Region, published in February 2016.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem that results in significant financial losses every year. Previous attempts to estimate the damages put the value between US$707 million and more than US$1.5 billion per year in the Western Pacific Ocean area alone. However, IUU fishing by its very nature is secretive, making it extremely difficult to accurately quantify the nature and extent of potential damages, as well as plan for effective Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) activities.

As part of a European Union-funded project, MRAG AP was commissioned to estimate the volume and value of IUU fishing in the tuna fisheries of the Pacific Islands region. The company took a ‘bottom up’ approach to the study, analysing detailed information at a local scale in an effort to build a more accurate picture of IUU fishing activity, particularly the variation in the nature and scale of IUU activity associated with each IUU risk in each main fishery. Estimates obtained in this way were then added together to develop an overall estimate of IUU catch and value.

According to Duncan Souter, CEO of MRAG AP, “The challenge with this approach is that it is time-consuming and information is often very patchy and hard to collect. There are therefore many gaps to fill that require analytical methodologies of varying degrees and complexity.” For this study, the company broke down the ‘IUU problem’ into discrete, quantifiable units – volume, species composition and value – before aggregating them up to produce a regional scale estimate.

Building the Model

Generating these estimates involved multiple steps. First, MRAG AP identified the IUU risks for each of its main fishing sectors, including unlicensed fishing, misreporting, underreporting and illegal transhipping. Then, the company studied available information to generate a ‘best estimate’ level of IUU activity, as well as minimum and maximum ranges. “The quality and nature of the information varied considerably between risks,” explained Souter. “Relatively precise ‘best estimates’ could be assigned to some risks based on available information, while others were more subjective, for example estimates of illegal transhipment activity.” Once these values had been assigned, the company defined a probability distribution of IUU activity within this range, using the distribution fitting tool where good observable data existed. Triangular distributions were used where there was a reasonable level of confidence that the level of IUU activity was likely to be close to the ‘best estimate’, and uniform distributions were used when the information wasn’t as certain.

MRAG AP then used Palisade’s @RISK software to create Monte Carlo simulations to define the relative probability that IUU volumes were within certain ranges, based on the ‘best estimate’ and minimum/maximum value ranges, as well as the assigned probability distribution. “The main benefit of the Palisade software was how it enabled us to easily deal with the high levels of uncertainty surrounding illegal fishing,” said Souter. “The level of available information was very limited for many risks, due to the secretive nature of IUU fishing. However, after we generated the ‘best estimate’ and minimum and maximum range values, @RISK enabled us to account for uncertainty in the underlying information, and produce probabilistic estimates of IUU activity.”

For this study, MRAG AP modelled potential illegal fish catch using a combination of literature, fishery data and monitoring activities as inputs, which provided values for likely illegal catch outcomes. The company then estimated the cost of illegal catches by applying known market values for each main tuna species and product type to the estimate IUU volumes and species composition in each fishery sector.

MRAG had 570,000 data points for one part of the model, so they also used the distribution fitting to estimate plausible input distributions. “@RISK is very user friendly, considering the complex analytical techniques we were undertaking, and provided useful outputs that allowed clear presentation of our results,” added Souter.

Based on the results of the study, several Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) activities were identified to mitigate IUU fishing in the Pacific Islands including strengthening on-board monitoring of fishing activity through improved observer coverage and the introduction of electronic monitoring technology. In addition, the study has provided a framework for the quantification of IUU fishing in Pacific tuna fisheries, and the design of a basic model that can be refined and updated over time as IUU risks change and better information becomes available.

“The over-riding message from the report is that the Pacific has come a long way in combatting IUU fishing, but more needs to be done. The challenge now is to ensure that MCS efforts focus on the areas of highest risk, and that estimates of IUU activity continue to come down over time,” said Souter.

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