Google is cooperating with SkyTruth and Oceana to visualize the movements of the global commercial fishing fleet. The project will make it possible to more easily track illegal fishing, it will allow government agencies as well as concerned citizens to track ships that broadcast an automatic identification system (AIS) code and exhibit a behavior that looks like fishing.
Unfortunately, the project will not be able to track smaller fishing boats that aren't required to use AIS. And while the system can't track ships that disable their broadcasting before they enter restricted zones, it will be able to flag these ships as suspected, possibly triggering enforcement against them for not transmitting as they are supposed to.
The idea is that the tool can be used for positive reinforcement to reward good fishing behavior, allowing people to pay a premium for responsibly harvested fish. The product is not far away from being a public platform, SkyTruth expects it may be launched within a couple of months.
The next step is to open up use of the tool to everyone and plug it into a live stream of satellite data, so that ship tracks are current to within a few days. “The product really is not very far away from being a public platform,” Woods said. “Everything works in a web browser and on Google servers in the cloud. We could launch something publicly in a couple months if we secure funding to pay for the data feed.”
In the meantime, Oceana has begun using the tool internally to track vessels that have already been blacklisted for fishing illegally, Savitz said. “We can see vessels that appear to be fishing in protected marine areas. Government officials often know about this activity but don’t do anything about it. We’ll use the tool to shine light on this activity and produce public pressure for officials to actually do their jobs.”