Google, environmental groups partner to track illegal, unregulated fishing

Global Fishing Watch, a project of Google, SkyTruth, and LDF grantee Oceana, is tapping into GPS and satellite technology to track commercial fishing. The goal: to increase transparency and stop illegal fishing by informing governments, consumers, and businesses of harmful and dangerous industry practices. “Change needs to come from all levels,” says Brian Sullivan, Program Manager for Google Ocean & Earth Outreach. 

Commercial fishermen are required to send out GPS signals of their location, primarily to increase safety while at sea. 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.

According to the Global Fishing Watch website, GPS systems provide “tools for governments, fishery management organizations, scientists, private industry, and NGOs to implement rules and regulations that will ensure a sustainable and abundant ocean.” The program has many applications, including the ability to shine a light on human trafficking and illegal fishing by using algorithms to track certain vessel characteristics, including their identity, type, location, and speed.

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, earning their journalists the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. 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.

The information can also be used to help determine whether a vessel is fishing in restricted areas such as marine protected areas or reserves. If any vessels are showing suspicious behavior, they can be easily traced to their location for a spot check based on the map.

On Wednesday, a new precedent was set in the fight against illegal fishing. The government of Peru committed to making its national tracking data available to Global Fishing Watch, and the Indonesian government officially made its data public for the first time ever. This marks an important moment in turning the tide against these illegal activities.

“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. Together, LDF and Global Fishing Watch are leading the way into a new era of ocean transparency.

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Last updated June 30, 2017

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