There Are A Lot of Fishing Boats in the Sea

November 24, 2014

One way to light up the oceans is to track all the large commercial fishing vessels plying their waters. Before now that was extremely difficult to do—especially because there are so many boats operating illegally. Thanks to this map created by Global Fishing Watch, a partnership between Google and the nonprofits Oceana and Skytruth, we can now see the 25,000 large fishing boats that dropped their nets and longlines for tuna, sea bass, and everything in between from 2012 to 2013. The group used satellite data to track the vessels and illuminate the habits of an industry typically unseen. Soon the partners will release a public map showing ship locations from just a few days ago, which will help identify—and hopefully help stop—illegal fishing.

Nearly a third of all the world's fishing stocks are overfished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. That means there are fewer fish in the sea, which has dramatic effects on the marine ecosystem. It also means that, worldwide, we can no longer get as many of them from our oceans. Between 1996 and 2012, global wild marine catch declined (fish farming makes up the difference). With this new map, the public, seafood suppliers, the media, fishermen, and researchers—anyone with an internet connection—can see where the boats are going and whether they’re exploiting fish in the wrong places (like a marine-protected reserve), shedding some light on a sometimes-fishy industry.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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