Tracking Commercial Fishing Worldwide

USA TODAY, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Tracking Commercial Fishing Worldwide


The global fishing fleet is so big it can be seen from space--really. Fishing activity now covers at least 55% of the world's oceans--four times the land area covered by agriculture --and can be monitored, in near real-time, to the level of individual vessels. In fact, 70,000 vessels of the global fishing fleet traveled 460,000,000 kilometers in 2016, equivalent to traveling to the moon and back 600 times, relates a University of California, Santa Barbara, study.

"I think most people will be surprised that, until now, we didn't really know where people were fishing in vast swaths of the ocean," says coauthor Christopher Costello, professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. "This new real-time dataset will be instrumental in designing improved management of the world's oceans that is good for the fish, ecosystems, and fishermen."

The team used machine learning technology to analyze 22,000,000,-000 messages publicly broadcasted from vessels' automatic identification system positions from 2012-16, to answer the question, 'What drives commercial fishing behavior'?" Based solely on vessel movement patterns, the Global Fishing Watch algorithm was able to identify more than 70,000 commercial fishing vessels, the sizes and engine powers of these vessels, what type of fishing they engaged in, and when and where they fished down to the hour and kilometer.

More than 40,000,000 hours of fishing activity were observed in 2016 and, while most nations appeared to fish predominantly within their own exclusive economic zones, China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea accounted for 85% of the observed fishing on the high seas. …

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