In a bid to clamp down on illegal and unsustainable fishing practices across the world’s oceans, Google, Oceana and SkyTruth launched a public web platform Thursday. The tool — Global Fishing Watch — was unveiled during the U.S. State Department’s Our Ocean Conference by Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation is its main backer.
“Oceans absorb about a third of the carbon we pump into the atmosphere but we pushed it way too far. The ocean can no longer keep up with our rampant rate of carbon dioxide emissions,” DiCaprio said during the first day of the two-day conference in Washington, D.C. “We need more leaders and communities to take bold actions. ... We must protect and value vital marine ecosystems rather than treating the oceans as an endless resource to be exploited and as a dumping ground for our waste.”
— Department of State (@StateDept) September 15, 2016
According to the 2013 World Ocean Review, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing may be depleting up to 26 million tons of fish — roughly 33 percent of the world’s total legal catch in 2011 — every year from the world’s oceans. This has, as the World Wildlife Fund notes in its “Living Blue Planet” report released last year, led to a 74 percent decline in the population of some fish species — including tuna and mackerel — essential to the global food supply.
An estimated 53 percent of the world’s fisheries are now fully exploited, while 32 percent are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.
This is where Global Fishing Watch comes in.
The interactive tool, which uses satellite tracking and data broadcast by the Automatic Identification System on board shipping vessels, uses machine learning to determine the types of ships in any given area, the kind of fishing gear they are using, and where they’re fishing based on their movement patterns. This data can then be used not only to pinpoint regions where illegal fishing is rampant, but also to help authorities determine which regions should temporarily be designated as “no take areas” where fishing is not allowed.
According to Google, the Indonesian government has already committed to make its Vessel Monitoring System public through Global Fishing Watch next year, while the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has agreed to collaborate on new research methodologies for reporting fishing statistics.
Currently, the online tool shows the fishing activity of 35,000 commercial fishing vessels operating throughout the world.
“Global Fishing Watch was not possible five years ago. From a technology perspective, satellites were just beginning to collect vessel positions over the open ocean, and the ‘global coverage’ was spotty,” Brian Sullivan, Google’s lead developer of the project, said in a blog post. “Today, Global Fishing Watch is an early preview of what is possible. We’re committed to continuing to build tools, partnerships, and access to information to help restore our abundant ocean for generations to come.”