WINNER, Seafood Champion Awards for Innovation

Pelagic Data Systems (PDS) is the creator of a groundbreaking vessel tracking system that is completely solar-powered, affordable, and suitable for boats of all sizes. PDS’s technology provides ocean-to-plate traceability for seafood lovers and helps eliminate illegally caught fish from the global supply chain. Employing a suite of customizable analytical tools that they’ve built, PDS can remotely and automatically ensure that boats are fishing in the right places and the right way. With ongoing projects throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Asia Pacific region, PDS is demonstrating its commitment to fisheries management that improves the livelihoods of fishing communities and ensures the long-term sustainability of marine resources. PDS is headquarted in San Francisco, California.


Pelagic Data Systems (PDS) is nominated both for the innovative hardware and analytics they developed to aide sustainable fisheries management practices and combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing; and for the innovative way they work to deploy this technology globally (e.g. leveraging public-private partnerships and collaborative multi-stakeholder approaches). They developed an innovative vessel tracking technology specifically for artisanal vessels too small for traditional systems. With these vessels comprising the vast majority of the global fleet, PDS’s devices are an accessible, affordable way to increase transparency and fight against IUU fishing. Their Ultra-Light System is a solar powered, autonomous data collection device, approximately smartphone sized, that records vessel location and transmits over a secured cellular network. It provides much higher resolution tracking than traditional monitoring systems, and still manages to be affordable for small-boat fishermen. Since 2014, PDS has launched programs in over 15 different countries.

How well does this nominee and his or her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?  

PDS’s vessel tracking system is far cheaper than a traditional, satellite-based vessel monitoring system, and can be installed on any boat, regardless of size. Their system finally makes vessel-monitoring technology affordable and accessible for much of the worlds’ fisheries. The accessibility of PDS’s monitoring technology presents new opportunities for fisheries in the developing world to increase transparency. The systems have helped developing nations with traditionally weak fisheries management—such as Indonesia—improve oversight and accountability of their fleets. For example, in 2015, PDS together with Del Pacifico Seafoods helped small-scale shrimp fishers to gain Fair Trade certification and thus gain access to previously inaccessible premium markets. They have also worked with organizations such as Dock to Dish and Real Good Fish to enable complete supply chain transparency and traceability for supply chains employing artisanal fishers. These programs have brought accountability to industries where such transparency was previously considered unimaginable – forging a path for new markets that can confirm that their seafood has been sustainably and safely harvested.

In what ways has this nominee positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

Overfishing, human rights violations, pollution, and fraud are just some of the serious offenses that can occur when fishing vessels lack sufficient oversight. One of the main impediments to proper management and oversight in much of the world is the lack of resources to adequately fund it. Pelagic Data Systems’ monitoring technology brings the same benefits of large vessel monitoring systems at a much more accessible price, allowing small-boat fisheries access to the same kinds of transparency as their larger, better funded counterparts. This transparency provides economic benefits for both fishers and consumers. When the industry can confirm that its seafood has been sustainably harvested, it becomes far more desirable in the market – allowing fish to be sold at a higher price, bringing in more revenue for fishers and peace of mind to consumers.

In what way do you feel this nominee’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?  

The Vessel Tracking System (VTS) from Pelagic Data Systems demonstrates that fisheries in developing nations can affordably increase the transparency of their operations, and that successful fisheries oversight is attainable for developing global fisheries. This type of innovation can inspire much-needed investment in efforts to fight illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, especially in segments of the industry previously defined by their lack of management and oversight. Sustained investment and engagement in developing fisheries will make it increasingly difficult for IUU fishing to continue. While improved fisheries management in the developing world has long been a priority, progress has been limited due to the financial restrictions that small-scale fisheries often face. Advancements such as the VTS demonstrate that cost does not need to be a barrier in promoting sustainability and transparency in the global seafood industry.

How would the work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?  

Fisher installing unit in a canoeThe Vessel Tracking System provides a new, cost effective approach to transparency that can be scaled globally, and move the world closer to ending illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. The work done by Pelagic Data Systems helps demonstrate that there are affordable ways to provide increased fishing traceability, seen through recent efforts to integrate biological testing into supply chains and increase data collection development. This innovative product from PDS also creates an economic incentive for fishers to play an active part in the fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Increased transparency allows for vessels to provide a higher return for their labor, while markets can sell seafood products at higher prices to consumers who are willing to pay extra for a higher quality product. This in turn makes small-scale fisheries more relevant in the global economy – encouraging further involvement from those looking to increase the value of seafood.

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