Google, Partners Launch Global Fishing Watch

By December 29, 2014 Uncategorized No Comments

Last November, a prototype of Global Fishing Watch was launched by Google, Oceana, SkyTruth, and SpaceQuest. The surveillance system, which can track large fishing vessels all over the world, was released in an effort to equip environmentalists with sophisticated technology to combat illicit fishing. Kemplon Engineering takes a closer look at how Global Fishing Watch works, what each of its collaborators brings to the table, and how it has been received so far in the maritime community.

Protecting the World’s Overfished Waters

Surveys indicate a third of our planet’s fisheries are overharvested, and that 75% of remaining stocks have reached the sustainable limit. Aside from resulting in species bordering on extinction, there is also a snowballing effect on the ocean’s ecosystem when extinction or limited stocks disrupt food cycles.

Global Fishing Watch began when representatives from Oceana, SkyTruth and Google’s Ocean and Earth Outreach Program sat down together and agreed that the elements that would allow monitoring of fishing fleets were already available. Fast-forward a few months, and a prototype of Global Fishing Watch was launched during the IUCN World Parks Congress in Australia.

Advocacy group Oceana heads the project; non-profit group SkyTruth developed the software; satellite data is available from SpaceQuest, and Google provides engineering and financial support, as well as use of its mapping software. Also involved in the project is Analyze Corp., which worked with a former NOAA agent and created a heuristic algorithm that allows the system to determine if a monitored vessel is probably engaged in fishing.

Global Fishing Watch extracts data from satellites and plots the positions of large, commercial fishing activity, both from registered fishers and those that act in ways suggestive of fishing. The eventual goal is a public-release version displaying data tantamount to being in real-time, or at least current enough to be actionable, such as illegal fishing in protected areas.


The system is at this point, expectedly imperfect. It can miss illicit activities from smaller vessels not required to send identification signals, and from fishers who cut communications when operating in protected or restricted zones. Furthermore, according to analytics company Windward, vessels operating illegally can ‘game the system’ through the manipulation of the Automatic Identification System (“AIS”) they are required by the UN to send out—making the tracking information Global Fishing Watch is heavily relying on, not-quite dependable.

There is clearly a long way to go before we have a fool-proof system that can monitor and consequently protect our oceans—the most important question being, that if we can develop one in time to save our fisheries. The strides made by formidable Google and their partners in this new endeavor offer some hope, as they show willpower, a fresh, scientific approach, and a collaborative spirit towards finding a solution.

^ Clark, Liat. “Google’s Global Fishing Watch is Using ‘Manipulated Data’.”, 21 Nov 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2014.
^ Gibbs, W. Wayt. “The Plan to Map Illegal Fishing From Space.”, 13 Nov 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2014.
^ Khan, Sami. “Google To Put An End To Illegal Fishing With Global Fishing Watch.” International Business Times, 17 Nov 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2014.
^ Marex. “New Google Tool to Track Global Fisheries.” Maritime Executive, 28 Nov 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2014.
^ Wood, Chris. “Google joins the effort to combat overfishing, with Global Fishing Watch.” Gizmag, 17 Nov 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2014.