Often times, little is known about the specifics of our seafood by the time it reaches our plate – where and how it was caught, who caught it, and even what type of species it is (a recent report showed that 1 in 5 samples of seafood worldwide was mislabeled). While most of the catch is caught legitimately, roughly 20 percent of the global seafood catch can be attributed to illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing. Not only does IUU fishing cost the global economy up to $23 billion annually, it poses threats to our oceans’ fisheries and exacerbates human rights abuses.
Global Fishing Watch, a project of Google, SkyTruth, and LDF grantee Oceana, is tapping into GPS and satellite technology to combat IUU fishing occurring throughout the world. The goal: to increase transparency and stop illegal fishing by informing governments, consumers, and businesses of harmful and dangerous industry practices. This innovative platform uses using algorithms to track certain vessel characteristics, including their identity, type, location, and speed, providing the tools needed to implement effective regulations.
Commercial fishermen must send out GPS signals of their location. Realizing the power of this information, Global Fishing Watch took the already existing technology and created an open database platform that can inform the public about the fishing activity of individual vessels. The information can then be used to help determine whether a vessel is targeting fish in restricted areas or engaging in other suspicious fishing activities.
Governments are now realizing the power of this data and partnering with Global Fishing Watch in the fight against IUU. On June 7th, the Indonesian government officially made its data public for the first time ever, and Peru made a similar commitment regarding its national tracking data, setting a new precedent in ocean transparency. This marks an important moment in turning the tide against illegal fishing activities as Peru and Indonesia are two of the largest fishing nations in the world.
Global Fishing Watch also has the ability to shine a light on human trafficking. In 2016, the Associated Press released a series of articles about the prevalence of human slavery in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry, freeing almost 2,000 slaves and tracing slave-caught seafood to grocery and pet stores. Using Global Fishing Watch, human rights groups will now be able to identify vessels fishing in a manner consistent with these types of dangerous practices.
In the United States, 90 percent of the seafood we consume is imported – the more information we have on our food, the more power we have to fight IUU. “Once you have these tools, people that buy fish can start making certain demands to ensure the legality of the catch they’re buying,” said Oceana’s Senior Scientist Dr. Kim Warner.
“Change needs to come from all levels,” says Brian Sullivan, Program Manager for Google Ocean & Earth Outreach, and together, LDF and Global Fishing Watch are leading the way into a new era of ocean transparency.