Timor-Leste launches world-first monitoring system for small-scale fisheries

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By Milthon Lujan

Dili.- Timor-Leste now has one of the most sophisticated data collection systems for small-scale fisheries in the world, following the launch of a new online dashboard that tracks fishing activities – including the number and type of fish caught by individual boats in near real-time.


The dashboard, Automated Analytics System for Small-Scale Fisheries in Timor-Leste (PeskAAS) , puts important data in the hands of fisheries officers, researchers and local stakeholders. This will enable them to better understand the contribution of fish and fisheries to local livelihoods and food security.

The system has already highlighted previously-unknown fishing areas, patterns and productivity in Timor-Leste.

Acacio Guterres , Director General of Fisheries, at Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) said: “The dashboard highlights the food and income contributed by fisheries, and opportunities to develop the sector to sustainably enhance food security. We are committed to investing in this system and working with WorldFish to build the capacity of MAF staff to use and manage it.”

The publicly-available dashboard, developed and tested by WorldFish and MAF over the previous two years, automatically analyzes data from landing sites and solar-powered tracking devices installed on boats.


In May 2019, MAF hired 11 data collectors to work across 30 key landing sites in the country’s 11 coastal municipalities. Each data collector is responsible for meeting fishers as they come back from their fishing trips, using smartphones or tablets to record the amount and type of species landed. The information is then uploaded to the data pipeline, and appears on the dashboard the same day.

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Since 2018, the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH), led by WorldFish, has worked in partnership with technology firm Pelagic Data Systems to install 359 of the solar-powered tracking devices on fishing boats in Timor-Leste. The devices track boat movements and send data via satellite back to the dashboard. WorldFish aims to install a total of 500 devices on fishing boats in the country’s key landing sites, representing approximately 20 percent of the national fleet.

Fisheries in Timor-Leste are very small scale and most fishers use paddle canoes to access narrow fringing reefs. Currently, reefs in Timor-Leste have healthy fish stocks and while there is great potential to develop small-scale fisheries to achieve national nutrition and development goals, there is also a danger that certain species in these areas could be overfished.

His Excellency Vegard Kaale, Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste said: “Greater exploitation of small-scale fisheries in Timor-Leste will add increasing pressure that needs managing for sustainability—and this data system will be crucial in supporting that.”


Alex Tilley, Scientist, Small-Scale Fisheries, WorldFish, said: “Small-scale fisheries are often diverse and remote, making them extremely difficult to track. By harnessing digital and solar-powered technologies, we’ve found an affordable and feasible way to monitor small-scale fisheries in near real- time. This is likely the first system of its kind in the world.”

The decision dashboard was developed initially under the Fisheries Sector Support Program (2015–2019) funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta and led by WorldFish and MAF. The work is being continued as part of a USD 100,000 Inspire Challenge grant from the CGIAR Platform on Big Data for Agriculture. Other organizations have already expressed interest in scaling up and adapting the system to monitor small-scale fisheries in countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Madagascar.

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Critical to the project’s design and implementation has been involving the fishing communities and municipal fisheries officers at every step. By April 2020, responsibility for managing the data collection will be handed over to MAF, with WorldFish providing ongoing technical support.

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