Energy & Environment

New way to publicly monitor global fishing changes the game


World leaders in ocean conservation and management are gathering in Washington this week for Secretary John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference — a convening of global policymakers aimed a tackling some of the greatest challenges facing our seas and the wildlife that depend on them. I’m especially excited about this year’s meeting because it will mark the moment when we can truly begin a new era in fisheries management thanks to a groundbreaking new digital tool that will allow governments and citizens around the world to improve management to bring back fishery abundance and strengthen food security.

{mosads}Early Thursday morning, we made Global Fishing Watch available to the public. Now for the first time ever, anyone with an internet connection can monitor global fishing activity, in near real-time, for free. Oceana partnered with SkyTruth and Google to produce a public platform that uses satellite data, cloud computing and machine learning to identify fishing activity all over the world and provide it to users in an intuitive internet-based interface.

Until today, the only way to really know what fishing vessels were doing was to have eyes physically trained on the ships, or to track vessels one at a time, point-by-point, day by day. That process is now automated by Global Fishing Watch so that anyone can instantly look at the tracks of tens of thousands of vessels, everywhere they fish, at any time over the past five years, within just a few days back from the present. This completely changes the game.

Ships over a certain size are required to use the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to avoid at-sea collisions. This broadcast data is collected by terrestrial and satellite receivers, and Global Fishing Watch analyzes it to locate apparent fishing activity. Now, for the first time, everyone can see where ships are fishing, and when. The applications of this technology to fishery policy and management are numerous. Early testers of Global Fishing Watch have consistently been bringing us new application ideas that even we, the developers, hadn’t imagined.

Governments can use it to help monitor marine protected areas and enforce the borders around those areas. They can see if unauthorized vessels are fishing in their waters. Seafood suppliers and certifiers can see how and where fish are caught, so that they can source sustainably caught fish and pass information along to their buyers. Ultimately, this information can be shared with consumers.

This leveling of the playing field has clear benefits to honest fishermen and businesses. Those who are already following the rules will now be able to show customers and governments that they are being responsible. Bad actors can now be held accountable, and will have an incentive to get on board or lose business to those fishermen who provide people with honestly and responsibly caught seafood.

Oceana’s mission is to restore ocean abundance. To do that, we need to know who is fishing, where they are fishing and when. Global Fishing Watch allows us to get that information in near-real time. Organizations like ours and citizens concerned about ocean health can help identify suspicious vessels and report them to the proper authorities. Journalists who cover ocean issues have a powerful tool that can help verify or disprove claims of fishing vessel operators about when and where they were fishing.

This tool comes at a crucial time. If we change nothing, our fish stocks, which are already suffering, will be decimated. Already, as a result of overfishing, 90 percent of the large fish in our oceans are gone and we know that illegal fishing is a $23 billion industry. With a growing world population, we need our oceans to be healthy and productive, so we must reverse the trend of overfishing. The good news is that marine ecosystems are resilient and if properly managed, our oceans can provide a healthy seafood meal to 1 billion people every day.

Global Fishing Watch leverages 21st-century technology that we need to properly care for and manage our precious ocean resources. This platform will completely transform the way we think about and develop fisheries policies, and could lead to a dramatic reduction in illegal fishing, which is one of the greatest barriers to ocean abundance.

It’s exciting and fitting that we make Global Fishing Watch public at this moment, in conjunction with the Our Ocean conference, since this is a way for world leaders, researchers, journalists, nongovernmental organizations and everyday citizens who care about the oceans to help make sure that our oceans continue to be a thriving natural resource for all us, and that they maintain their capability to help feed the world for generations to come. I personally cannot wait to see the impacts of this free, publicly available and powerful tool.

I’d like to invite you to take it for a test run. You can try out this new technology for yourself here.

Savitz is vice president for the United States and Global Fishing Watch.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Tags AIS Automatic Identification System Fishing Google John Kerry Oceana Our Ocean Conference ship SkyTruth Sustainability sustainable track
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