CASCAIS, Portugal -- Google offered an early look at its new Global Fishing Watch project, which allows users to track commercial fishing vessels and increase transparency around the fishing industry, at the World Ocean Summit in Portugal on Friday.
Google, the environmental group Oceana and the remote mapping and tracking organization SkyTruth first announced the program at last year's ocean summit. On Friday, Google Ocean program manager Brian Sullivan gave a snapshot of what they've put together in their prototype of the program so far.
Global Fishing Watch maps commercial fishing ships that are equipped with Automatic Identification System technology, and allows users to visualize the hot spots around the world and see where illegal fishing or overfishing is taking place. It shows a vessel's name, type and country of origin, and also tracks its movements. The prototype brings together 300 million AIS data points for more than 25,000 fishing vessels.
"You can see patterns that were invisible before," Sullivan told World Ocean Summit attendees, which include representatives from government, business and nonprofits.
Global Fishing Watch describes the potential benefits of the site:
Citizens can 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. Fishermen can show that they are obeying the law and doing their part. Researchers will have access to a multiyear record of all trackable fishing activity.
"Illegal fishing is cheating honest fishermen and consumers, and preventing fisheries from recovering," Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. oceans at Oceana, told The Huffington Post. "This is a way to use big data to hold governments and the fishing industry accountable."
Sullivan said the tracking technology also allows users to see where vessels turn off their AIS -- possibly to evade such tracking. Google Ocean found half a million cases of vessels disappearing from the radar in 2014 -- about 17,000 instances each month. "We can zoom in, get information on the vessel, where they are, and make that transparent," said Sullivan.
While not all countries require ships to have AIS on board, Sullivan said more and more governments are requiring it. He also expressed optimism that, in cases where countries aren't requiring it, companies will want to adopt the technology to demonstrate to consumers that they're fishing legally and transparently.
They also demonstrated how the site can be used to ensure that fishing is not taking place in protected areas, using the example of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, which was closed to fishing in January 2015. Their tracking showed that fishing had, in fact, stopped in the protected area. Savitz said Global Fishing Watch's technology can demonstrate the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of protected areas.
The groups plan to make the technology available to the public for free sometime next year.
Google also launched 40 new Street View images for underwater sites around the world -- showing views of places like the Chagos Islands, Bali, the Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reef from below the sea. The new images are part of a 4-year-old effort from Google to document the seas, and was released for World Oceans Day, which is June 8.
"We hope the release of this imagery inspires people to learn more about this precious natural resource," Google said in its release, noting that oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, but are still "one of the most uncharted and undiscovered ecosystems on the planet."