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Watch Fishing Vessels and Stamp Out Illegal Fishing

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Data & Technology
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SkyTruth, Oceana and Google unveiled an easy-to-use online platform that will give citizens in countries the world over the ability “to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide.” Dubbed Global Fishing Watch, the three development partners introduced the online platform Nov. 14 at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.

Making use of satellite data and big-data analytics, Global Fishing Watch will give stakeholders and the public at-large unprecedented views of the location and activities of fishing vessels globally. This comes at a time when public interest in and support for sustainable seafood and fishing practices is strong and rising.

“So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean,” SkyTruth founder and president, John Amos, was quoted in a press release. “But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before.”

Global Fishing Watch


Global Fishing Watch collects and analyzes data points from the U.N. International Maritime Organization's Automatic Identification System (AIS) network. SkyTruth, Oceana and Google are tapping into AIS network data to raise public awareness and knowledge, as well as transparency and accountability of the global fishing industry participants.

The AIS network was originally developed and implemented as a maritime safety mechanism so that ships could avoid collisions while at sea. Data obtained from the AIS network includes the identity, speed and direction of broadcasting. As Global Fishing Watch's three development partners discovered, this data can be filtered and leveraged to give “an unprecedented view of human interaction with the ocean.”

“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,” Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless explained.
“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.”

Besides providing signals of activity that may be unsustainable or in contravention of national and international maritime regulations, fishing vessel operators and crews “can show how they are doing their part to fish sustainably,” the three partners highlight. “We can motivate citizens to watch the places they care about, and we can all work together to restore a thriving ocean.”

"While many of the environmental trends in the ocean can be sobering, the combination of cloud computing and massive data is enabling new tools to visualize, understand and potentially reverse these trends,” said Brian Sullivan, program manager of Google Ocean & Earth Outreach. “We are excited to contribute a Google-scale approach toward ocean sustainability and public awareness."

*Images credit: Global Fishing Watch

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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