Google helps track overfishing through satellites

The prototype platform uses ship traffic signals to track fishing activity

This image from the Global Fishing Watch platform shows fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean. The platform is aimed at tracking illegal fishing and curbing overfishing.

This image from the Global Fishing Watch platform shows fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean. The platform is aimed at tracking illegal fishing and curbing overfishing.

Google has helped launch an ambitious project combining cloud computing, big data and satellite networks to monitor global fishing activity with an eye to curb overfishing.

Global Fishing Watch, formed with environmental groups Skytruth and Oceana, is described as the first global view of commercial fishing based on satellite data analysis. It's intended to "give citizens a simple, online platform to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide," according to a release from Oceana.

A prototype of the system was shown off Friday at the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, where Google is hosting a mapping workshop. A public release version of the project is still in development.

The platform works by analyzing Automatic Identification System (AIS) traffic signals that are automatically sent from VHF transmitters aboard ships. The signals can include information such as a ship's name, speed and direction, and can already be seen on websites such as, which shows vessel locations on a map.

The Global Fishing Watch system removes all non-fishing vessels from its feeds and plots fishing ships on a map. A YouTube demo video shows how the data can be mapped so that ships from a common country such as Japan are all shown in the same color. Individual vessels can also be tracked, with telltale courses showing fishing activity.

Particularly sensitive or protected areas, such as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, can be monitored for illegal fishing activity, according to the video.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the project.

Over 90 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited or over-fished, a website for Global Fishing Watch said, citing a 2014 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report.

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Tim Hornyak

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