A new online tool, Global Fishing Watch, allows anyone with an internet connection to monitor and track the activities of commercial fishing vessels around the world. 

The online technology platform was unveiled, Thursday, at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation is one of the project's funders.

Global Fishing Watch is a joint project between Google, digital mapping non-profit Skytruth and ocean conservation group Oceana — allows users to view a world map with over 35,000 major fishing vessels moving in near real time.

Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada, says the tool will help monitor and curb illegal fishing on the high seas.

It can identify typical fishing behaviours and routes, he explained, and users can monitor when fishing boats go beyond their stated objectives or head into protected waters.

"You can always be looking for any boats that are in there exhibiting [illegal] fishing activity and target your enforcement on what that shows you," he explained.

Boats tracked with pre-existing technology

Laughren says Global Fishing Watch uses publicly-available data from a pre-existing identification technology that all ships have.

The identification technology is a safety mechanism meant to prevent collisions at sea, and it sends a ping to a satellite or terrestrial receiver every five seconds or so.

The platform harvests the satellite pings to identify the location and identity of the ship, he said.

There are around 200,000 major commercial boating operations on the ocean at any one point, Laughren says, so the platform's developers further identified and mapped typical fishing patterns to identify which vessels — about 35,000 — were fishing operations.

High seas overfishing 'extremely damaging'

The online platform is part of a concerted effort to curb the problem of illegal fishing on the high seas.

A 2013 World Ocean Review report estimated that 11 to 26 million tonnes of seafood is illegally caught on the high seas and attempts to monitor and curb commercial operations on water have been difficult if not impossible.

Alaska-Salmon Spill

Illegal fishing can hurt the legitimate fishing industry because when catches are under-reported, it can lead to depleted stocks. (The Associated Press/Becky Bohrer)

"Illegal fishing, especially on the high seas, hurts the planet's food security. It hurts the fishing industry and the communities that rely on it," said Laughren.

Many in the industry agree.

Sonia Strobel, co-founder and managing director of a local Vancouver fishery, Skipper Otto's, says she is hopeful the new online tool can help make fishing more sustainable.

"The in-shore fishing fleets around the world are monitored by governments and NGOs, but very little has been done or could be done to monitor the off-shore, high seas fleets ... [The tool] gives us great hope that we can reign in rampant illegal practices and over extraction." 

With files from The Early Edition and Chad Pawson


To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Online global fishing platform launched to curb illegal fishing

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this article referred to the new online tool as an app instead of an online platform. An online platform is a structure that apps can be built upon.
    Sep 20, 2016 10:27 AM PT