SkyTruth, Oceana, and Google have just announced the release of a prototype interactive map that is designed to show all of the trackable fishing activity in the ocean. Global Fishing Watch uses satellite data to create the first worldwide view of commercial fishing, with the aim of raising awareness of the intensity of legal fishing, while highlighting the question of how much illegal activity is going on.
As we’ve discussed many times before, global overfishing is destroying ocean ecosystems. A 2014 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization revealed nearly one-third of marine fish stocks worldwide have been overfished and more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overfished. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, and billions rely on the ocean as an important source of protein.
Related: Oceana Report Reveals the Horrifying Cost of By-Catch in US Fisheries
Global Fishing Watch harnesses the power of citizen engagement in order to hold world leaders accountable for maintaining an abundant ocean. By including data on individual vessels, including flag of origin, people can use the tool to see for themselves whether their fisheries are being effectively managed. It’s also envisioned that seafood suppliers can keep tabs on the boats they buy fish from, while fisherman can clearly demonstrate that they are obeying the law. Researchers will also have access to a useful multi-year record of trackable fishing activity.
The interactive mapping tool uses a global feed of vessel locations. Information is extracted from vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking data, which is collected by satellite. According to its developers, the system automatically classifies the observed patterns of movement as either “fishing” or “non-fishing” activity. The first release of Global Fishing Watch started with 3.7 billion data points covering the movements of 111,374 vessels over 2012 and 2013. The newly released prototype visualization uses 300 million AIS data points and covers more than 25,000 individual vessels. The initial fishing activity map data will be limited to 35 million pieces of data from 3,125 independently verified fishing vessels. Once beyond the prototype stage, Global Fishing Watch will provide a simple, online platform to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide.
Photos by Global Fishing Watch