Google keeps an eye out for fish poachers

global fishing watch
Video screen capture Global Fishing Watch / YouTube

When we think of poaching, we tend to focus on land animals being illegally hunted toward extinction, but a similar event is happening to fish in the sea. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly one-third of global marine fish stocks have been overfished and over 90 percent of the world's fisheries are either fully exploited or over-fished.

Overfishing not only has a huge effect on marine ecosystems but hundreds of millions people around world depend on healthy fish stocks for their livelihoods and for food. So far, it's been easy for fishing vessels to carry out illegal fishing activities like catching more than is regulated, fishing during off-seasons, fishing in protected waters or with illegal methods because it's hard to monitor ships that are far out in the ocean, out of sight.

Now, through a technology partnership with Oceana, an international organization devoted to ocean conservation, and Skytruth, a non-profit that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to expose environmental impacts, Google is using it's mapping technology to keep tabs on global fishing activity and let the public watch what ships are doing. Called Global Fishing Watch, the project is building an interactive web tool that lets anyone see the location of global fishing fleets in real time.

According to Global Fishing Watch, the tool uses "a global feed of vessel locations extracted from Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking data collected by satellite, revealing the movement of vessels over time. The system automatically classifies the observed patterns of movement as either “fishing” or “non-fishing” activity."

The tool will be useful to citizens who want to keep tabs on their nearby fisheries, seafood suppliers who want to monitor boats they buy fish from and researchers who will have access to multi-year records of fishing activity. It also allows media outlets and the public to act as watchdogs for keeping fishing fleets accountable.

The project has already carried out case studies from the years 2012 to 2013 to show how it can uncover suspicious activity. Below is a map of activity by the Russian fishing trawler Komarovo that appears to show it fishing five different times in September 2013 in a nature preserve.

You can watch more about the initiative in the video below.

Google keeps an eye out for fish poachers
The tech company is helping to track illegal fishing around the world.

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