In the last 60 years the fishing industry have caught nine out of every ten large fish. That’s only 10% of large fish like tuna, cod, swordfish and halibut remaining on the planet. International fleets still pursue what is remaining. According a 2014 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, over 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or over-fished.

This week Oceana, Skytruth and Google launched The Global Fishing Watch. This can identify individual fishing vessels and track their fishing activity, shining a light on fishing activity worldwide.

Global Fishing Watch Map
Global Fishing Watch Example Map

The prototype anlayses data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network. This was designed to avoid collisions and gives information about a ship’s identy, location, speed and direction of travel. Global Fishing Watch uses the data to map the who, where and when of commercial fishing around the world.

Global Fishing Watch will be available to anyone with an internet connection to monitor when and where commercial fishing is happening around the globe. The designers hope that people will use the tool to see for themselves whether their fisheries are being effectively managed. Seafood suppliers can keep tabs on the boats they buy fish from. Media and the public can act as watchdogs to improve the sustainable management of global fisheries. Fisherman can show that they are obeying the law and doing their part. Researchers will have access to a multi-year record of all trackable fishing activity.

The systems aims to make fishing activity more transparent and identify illegal fishing. It will be able to monitor any fishing activity in closed, protected areas. For example, in tests the Komarovo, a trawler registered in Russia, appeared to be fishing five times inside the Dzhugdzhursky State Nature Reserve in September 2013. The nature reserve is an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) category 1a protected area, meaning it has the highest, and strictest, protection level possible. However, at least five vessels, all registered in Russia, entered the Nature Reserve and exhibited behavior suggestive of fishing in 2013.

There are currently 6,600 marine protected areas (MPAs) covering about 2 percent of the world’s oceans. An even smaller area of the global oceans, about 1 percent, has been protected with a “No Take” designation where all fishing is prohibited.

“Global Fishing Watch is designed to empower all stakeholders, including governments, fishery managers, citizens and members of the fishing industry itself, so that together they may work to bring back a healthy, bio-diverse and maximally productive ocean,” said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. “By engaging citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for managing fisheries sustainably and for enforcing fishing rules, Global Fishing Watch will help bring back the world’s fisheries, protecting and enhancing the livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on ocean fisheries for food and income.”

Although the Global Fishing Watch promises to be a fantastic tool, it is not perfect. Many smaller fishing vessels are not included in Global Fishing Watch as vessels below 300 gross tonnage are not currently required to operate AIS in many areas. It is hoped that the AIS will be expanded to smaller ships.

SkyTruth is a nonprofit organization using remote sensing and digital mapping to create stunning images that expose the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and other human activities. Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Google Earth Outreach is a team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address environmental and humanitarian issues through partnerships with non-profits, educational institutions, and research groups.

Further Reading:
Global Fishing Watch


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