THE BLOG
11/14/2014 10:02 am ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

Google, Skytruth, and Oceana Partner to Monitor Global Fishing

Each day, hundreds of thousands of fishing vessels cruise the world's oceans in search of seafood. Fishing with bottom trawls, longlines, gillnets, and harpoons, they search the farthest reaches of the ocean to bring back the seafood that we enjoy and many depend on. The vast scale of the global fishing fleet has always been an obstacle to sustainable fisheries management. How do you monitor hundreds of thousands of boats spread over 71 percent of the globe? By harnessing the power of satellite data through a new platform called Global Fishing Watch.

Developed by Google, Skytruth, and Oceana, Global Fishing Watch will ultimately give citizens in countries around the world a simple, online platform to visualize, track, and share information about ocean fishing activity. The prototype was recently demonstrated at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. Oceana is now leading the effort to secure the funding to provide this freely to the public worldwide.

The platform works because it utilizes pre-existing data. It analyzes data points from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network, which is similar to a GPS broadcast of a ship's location. This system was primarily designed as a safety mechanism to avoid collisions at sea, but these data can also be used to gather information about the vessel's fishing behavior by analyzing the identity, speed, and direction of broadcasting vessels.

We believe that knowing when, where, and how boats are fishing is an essential step to help countries better manage the world's fisheries, many of which are drastically overfished. Nearly one-third of assessed marine fish stocks worldwide have been overfished, and 90 percent were either fully fished or overfished in 2011, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Better data empowers governments, fishery managers, citizens, and members of the fishing industry to work together to rebuild overfished fisheries and restore biodiversity to our oceans. We hope that citizens will use this tool to hold their elected officials accountable for managing fisheries sustainably and for enforcing fishing rules. And fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on healthy fisheries, can show that they are doing their part to sustainably manage our ocean's resources.

Global Fishing Watch could also be used to monitor illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is increasing rapidly around the globe, especially when the chance for fast profit outweighs the long-term benefits of responsible management. Activities like fishing in restricted areas, ignoring quotas, catching prohibited species or failing to accurately report catches account for an estimated 11 to 26 million tons of fish caught each year and $10 to $23 billion in economic losses for countries and local communities.

We believe that Global Fishing Watch provides an unprecedented view of human interaction with the ocean. By monitoring global fishing activity and identifying IUU fishing, we hope that countries can better manage sustainable fisheries that protect and enhance the livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the oceans for food and income.