Global Fishing Fleet Monitored in Near Real-Time
Fishing activity covers at least 55 percent of the world’s oceans, four times the land area covered by agriculture, and it can now be monitored, in near real time, to the level of individual vessels.
Using satellite tracking, machine learning and AIS data, scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara, Global Fishing Watch, National Geographic Society’s Pristine Sea project, Dalhousie University, SkyTruth, Google and Stanford University have tracked the extent of global fishing down to single vessel movements and hourly activity.
The researchers say the global fishing fleet is so big it can be seen from space, and they mapped 70,000 vessels from the global fishing fleet - which traveled 460 million kilometers in 2016, equivalent to traveling to the moon and back 600 times.
The team used machine learning technology to analyze 22 billion messages publicly broadcast from vessels’ AIS positions from 2012 to 2016, and their dataset is hundreds of times higher in resolution than previous global surveys. 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 million hours of fishing activity was 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 percent of the observed fishing on the high seas.
“This dataset provides such high-level resolution on fishing activity that we can even see cultural patterns, such as when fishermen in different regions take time off,” said Juan Mayorga, a scientist with National Geographic. For example, in the Chinese fishing fleet — the largest in the world — during Chinese New Year fishing activity is reduced to levels comparable to those during seasonal bans enforced by the government.
The interactive map is freely available to the public.