How would you feel if you found out the fish you ordered was the result of illegal fishing by slaves held captive on commercial fishing vessels? What if it was caught in a marine protected area like the Galapagos and was unreported?

Unfortunately, these are very real scenarios that exist today, but now there’s a tool that can help to identify suspicious vessels and potential illegal activities at sea. It’s called Global Fishing Watch and it was launched by a partnership between Oceana, SkyTruth and Google in September of 2016.

Commercial fishing activity is visible across the globe, for free

Global Fishing Watch was created because fishing on our oceans has been essentially invisible, and the three partnering organizations believe that there should be a free, global, easy to use tool that offers transparency in commercial fishing activities. Now, there is a spotlight on the oceans to empower individuals to help prevent illegal activities from occurring. Global Fishing Watch aims to protect our oceans by exposing fishing practices that were previously invisible, to help protect our oceans and restore ocean health.

“While many of the environmental trends in the ocean can be sobering, the combination of cloud computing, machine learning, and massive data is enabling new tools to visualize, understand and potentially reverse these trends,” says Brian Sullivan, Senior Program Manager at Google Ocean & Earth Outreach, a team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address environmental and humanitarian issue through partnerships with non-profits, educational institutions and research groups. “We are excited to contribute a Google-scale approach toward ocean sustainability and public awareness.”

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The technology was made possible because of funding partners like the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Additionally, it was designed to be accessible and user-friendly so both experts and tech newbies can use it equally well. If you’ve ever used Google Maps, you’ll be able to use Global Fishing Watch. The combination of the partnership has truly maximized the strengths of each organization.

“Working with Oceana and Google has enabled us to take a good idea and build it into something that will improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the planet,” says John Amos, President and Founder of SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization using remote sensing and digital mapping to create stunning images that expose the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and other human activities.

Groundbreaking tool allows you to track commercial fishing activities in near real-time

Global Fishing Watch uses data collected by satellites and terrestrial receivers to determine the locations of commercial fishing ships and shows this data in near real-time. Using Global Fishing Watch, anyone with internet can track fishing vessels, help identify suspicious fishing behavior and view commercial fishing activity worldwide.

Millennial Magazine - illegal fishing

This will put pressure on seafood suppliers to promote transparency and support legally caught seafood, help enforcement agencies prioritize problem areas and vessels of concern, allow fishery managers to track vessels and identify potential unauthorized activity, help to deter illegal fishing and reduce overfishing. Users can also follow individual vessel tracks and identify which ones have been at sea for extended periods, perhaps indicating suspicious reasons for avoiding scrutiny at port. The possibilities of using Global Fishing Watch are endless.

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Governments can ensure fishing vessels are authorized to fish in their waters, and pursue those that are not. Seafood suppliers can see where and how fish are being caught. Journalists and researchers can study the impact of fishing on ocean health. And individuals like you can identify suspicious vessels and report them to the authorities.

“Global Fishing Watch will revolutionize the way the world views commercial fishing,” Jacqueline Savitz, Vice President for the United States and Global Fishing Watch at Oceana, tells us. “Now, everyday citizens will be able to identify behavior that may be related to illegal fishing or overfishing. Global Fishing Watch is a powerful tool in this fight and has tremendous potential to preserve and protect our world’s delicate marine ecosystem for generations to come.”

Combat illegal fishing and help restore ocean health

Enforcing fishing laws can be difficult and costly, but Global Fishing Watch can help. The government of Kiribati used Global Fishing Watch data to show that Marshalls 203, a Marshall Islands fishing ship, was fishing illegally in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which was declared off-limits to commercial fishing on January 1, 2015. The use of Global Fishing Watch helped result in a $1 million fine that was paid by the owners of Marshalls 203. The company also made a special “goodwill arrangement” with the government, agreeing to pay an additional $1 million in the form of a grant.

Hundreds of millions of people depend on the ocean for their jobs, and almost 3 billion rely on it as a protein source. Beyond being a great place to sail, surf and scuba dive, oceans are economically and physically important to a lot of people in our world, but the big problem is that our oceans are threatened by overfishing, illegal fishing and habitat destruction.

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Global Fishing Watch can support ocean health so governments, the fishing industry and individuals like you can work together to rebuild fish stocks and protect important ocean habitats. Oceana’s mission is to save the oceans and feed the world. Global Fishing Watch is now available so that everyone can help us achieve this mission. By taking an interest in monitoring commercial fishing activities, you are helping to promote transparency in seafood supply chains and combat illegal behavior on our oceans.