Watch Where People Are Pulling Fish Out Of The Ocean Ilegally

Now when ships try to fish in protected waters, the public will be watching.

Illegal fishing takes an estimated 11 to 26 million tons of fish out of the ocean every year, causing billions in economic losses for local communities, and really, from all of us. Illegal fishing undermines fisheries management, control systems, and conservation efforts that we need to keep the oceans healthy.


With that in mind, SkyTruth, Oceana and Google have built Illegal Fishing Watch Global Fishing Watch (GFW)–the first public real-time platform for tracking fishing vessels. GFW can identify any ship registered with an Automatic Identification System number, which, under International Maritime Organization rules, should be all ships 300 tons and over.

GFW analyzes boat movements for tell-tale patterns indicating fishing. Have a look at the maps in the slideshow. The green arrows show boats moving at 20+ knots (i.e not fishing). Red arrows denote boats moving very slowly, or not at all–i.e. likely fishing. The maps illustrate which ships are where, including in protected areas.

To test the tool, the groups initially used historical data from 2012 and 2013. They found 25,000 ships either registered to fish, or indicating fishing from in their movements. Several clearly seemed to be breaking the law, as you can see from a report Oceana also published. These include Wakashio Maru No. 118, a Japanese “longliner” that passed through a protected zones, leaving red splotches in places it shouldn’t have been; as well as five Russian ships clearly fishing in “No Take” areas. Another ship, Marta Lucia R from Catagena, Columbia, was one of 300 on an international blacklist, and was not supposed to be fishing at all.

When the GFW launches to the public, it will offer “near-real-time” tracking using satellite data, according to the groups (“there should be no gaps in coverage at all by the end of 2016,” the report says). Oceana calls on government to require AIS numbers in their fishing areas; that the IMO require more ships to have AIS numbers; and that gaming (“spoofing”) the AIS system should result in blacklisting.

SkyTruth, Oceana and Google see AIS as the basis of a universal tool. Certainly, it sheds light on some murky parts of the food economy.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.