Thousands of commercial fisherman troll the ocean waters to find the tastiest and most interesting seafood for consumers around the world. At the same time, global fisheries work tirelessly to protect the sustainability of the seas. The sheer volume of fishing vessels spread out across the world has made the mission of fisheries and ocean protection agencies nearly impossible—until now.
Google, the giant of mapping, SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization that creates images from remote sensing and digital mapping, and Oceana, an international advocacy group working to protect ocean health formed an exciting new partnership to develop “Global Fishing Watch”. Global Fishing Watch is a big data platform that will utilize satellite data and for the first time provide to users an accurate overview of global fishing activities. A prototype was unveiled recently in Sydney, Australia at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress. The platform takes data points from the AIS (Automatic Identification System) network—GPS signals currently utilized by vessels to identify their location in order to avoid collision. After analyzing the AIS data to determine the type, direction and speed of the vessel, Global Fishing Watch will know if it is a fishing vessel and where it is active. All non-fishing vessels are weeded out from the analysis. Most of the world’s ocean waters have been over-fished, almost to the point of depletion. In fact, according to a 2014 UN Food and Agriculture report, more than 90% of the fisheries are depleted. For Global Fishing Watch partners, the opportunity to empower fisheries, advocacy groups and nations with an indisputable tool to protect ocean life was of paramount importance. According to John Amos, Founder and President of SkyTruth, “So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean. But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before.