Over the past 40 years, the number of recorded marine species has decreased by around 39 percent, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This extreme extinction rate is, in many ways, due to overfishing. The UN’s 2016 The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report reveals that one third of the world’s commercially-fished stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels. In some regions, those percentages are even higher: in the North East Atlantic, 39 percent of fish stocks are classified as overfished, and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, an estimated 88 percent of stocks are unsustainably harvested.
Last September, Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google unveiled a free, publicly accessible platform that allows global citizens to serve as a check against overfishing. The program, called Global Fishing Watch, allows anyone with an Internet connection to see, in real-time, the activities of fishing ships around the globe.
Using data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which commercial vessels are required to possess, Global Fishing Watch identifies fishing vessels based on their behavior and movement over time. From there, the system presents every identified fishing ship on a worldwide heat map to be freely viewed by governments, businesses, and global citizens alike.
By clearly labeling restricted and prohibited fishing zones, as well as the exclusive economic zones of each country’s territorial waters, users can see when vessels are violating fishing regulations, or the intensity in which fishing is occurring in certain ocean regions.
The platform has additional uses beyond accountability. Global Fishing Watch identifies the ability for seafood suppliers to monitor the vessels from which they buy fish. Researchers also use the data to study fishery management techniques.
AIS information has already been used to track the movements of fishing fleets in government territorial waters for years, but by presenting this information freely and on a global scale, Global Fishing Watch allows for this valuable information to be placed into the hands of the global public, who can use this data to call for improved accountability, and to advocate for policies that can decrease overfishing worldwide.