Global Fishing Watch - Sailors for the Sea

Global Fishing Watch

By: Jacqueline Savitz, Vice President for United States & Global Fishing Watch, Oceana | October 6, 2016

Sailors Now Have the Ultimate Program to Take Action Against Illegal Fishing

Our oceans are under siege from a variety of threats, including the excessive extraction of wild fish. Most fisheries in the world are fished beyond their limits — indiscriminate bycatch is decimating populations of marine wildlife, and bottom trawling and other destructive practices are destroying nursery and spawning habitat. This results in rapidly declining fish stocks and population crashes that ripple throughout the ocean food web.

The good news is that oceans are resilient and can regain their former abundance, but for that to happen we must manage our fisheries responsibly. More and more countries are putting in place catch limits and habitat protections that are necessary to rebuild ocean resources. But for these efforts to be successful, the rules put in place to protect our most precious ocean resources must be vigorously enforced.

Sailors understand what is at stake. And sailors, more than others, are in a position to help monitor the conduct of the global fishing fleet, to hold it accountable. Global Fishing Watch is the first technology platform that allows anyone with an internet connection to see global fishing activity in near real-time, for free.

Global Fishing Watch, built by a partnership between Oceana, the search engine giant Google and the technology nonprofit SkyTruth, is free, easy to use, global in scale, and open source, which means as more users access the technology and create additional applications over time, the tool will become even more powerful.

Global Fishing Watch uses the Automatic Identification System, or AIS, which sailors recognize as a tracking system employed by over 200,000 vessels around the world for safety purposes.

Large fishing vessels, including the ones that catch the most fish globally, are required to utilize AIS to prevent collisions at sea. Global Fishing Watch can access AIS data, which typically includes vessel identification information, and plug it into algorithms built to use vessel movement and location to identify apparent fishing activity. It then makes information on where fishing is occurring available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.

This is where sailors come in. Imagine being out on the water and you see a passing fishing vessel. Perhaps it seems suspicious or out of place, or you’re just curious about where it came from. If you have an internet connection and a computer, you can pull up Global Fishing Watch, and if that fishing vessel is using its AIS, you can trace the path of its previous activity (with a three-day delay) all the way back to 2012. Global Fishing Watch will indicate whether the ship has been fishing and you will be able to see where and when it fished, whether it fished in a protected area, and where and when it returned to port.

Your “eyes on the ocean” might also identify odd behavior like a vessel meeting up with another ship at sea for a potential transshipment or a vessel that does not have its AIS activated. If you are sailing in or near a marine protected area and see a vessel fishing, you may be able to determine whether that ship was fishing in a no take area. In all cases reports can be made through Global Fishing Watch and your report will be sent to the relevant enforcement agency.

When citizens show governments that laws are not being enforced, it will put pressure on those governments to act. Global Fishing Watch will help sailors, fishermen and everyday citizens hold governments accountable to enforce fishery laws.

Global Fishing Watch is especially powerful in the hands of sailors around the world, who can match eyewitness accounts with recorded satellite data. Imagine if every sailor in the world could give evidence to authorities enabling them to determine which fishing vessels are following the law and those that are not.  – empowering citizens to be able to say, “I know where my seafood came from.”

But it’s not just for sailors. Global Fishing Watch can be used by seafood retailers to identify the source of the seafood they purchase for sale, by seafood certifiers to strengthen the certification process, by companies that insure fishing vessels to track their policy-holders, by honest fishermen to make sure the rules are enforced so that they may compete on an even playing field. The project is brand-new and will reap the benefits of combining technology with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in an effort to curb those practices.

Most importantly, Global Fishing Watch allows fishing vessel operators to show the world they are fishing legally. By consistently using an AIS transponder, they might be able to fetch a higher price for their catch — or get access to markets that in the future could be closed to any fishing vessel that doesn’t meet this basic transparency standard. In the meantime, it will put the bad actors on notice, essentially telling them: “We’ve got our eyes on you.”

Currently, sailors traveling to more remote areas of the ocean will able to provide the most beneficial information to Global Fishing Watch. This is because they are more likely to be traveling through no-take marine protected areas and areas of the ocean that are managed by small countries and have limited resources. Additionally, sailors may be able to help identify types of gear that is not allowed in certain places, for example some areas of the Mediterranean have banned drift nets since they create a large amount of bycatch.

Both Oceana and Sailors for the Sea are striving to preserve the richness and biodiversity of the ocean for future generations. Now, with Global Fishing Watch, we all have a powerful new tool to deter illegal fishing.

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