Tackling illegal fishing using big data

How do you check ships on the vast expanse of the world's seas and oceans? One way of doing it is with Global Fishing Watch. This new platform makes global ship movements accessible and therefore helps to combat illegal fishing.


These days, almost all ships are obliged to have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) on board. This AIS identifies ships and records their position, course and sailing speed. Global Fishing Watch collects this data and displays it on a map. Worldwide ship movements can be monitored on the map, which also shows the borders between territorial waters and protected maritime and coastal areas. This information helps to detect illegal fishing vessels.

The platform was launched by Google, with the other partners being non-profit Oceana and satellite analysts SkyTruth. Together they continuously process the details of 200,000 ships, filter out the 35,000 or so fishing vessels and place them on the map. In this way, ships can be monitored almost in real time, albeit with a 72-hour time delay. You can also view days or periods in the past. The platform is accessible to the public.