Sunday, 22 September, 2019

Satellites see big fishing's footprint on the high seas

This map shows activity of fishing vessels that use drifting longlines. They roamed the high seas especially in tropical latitudes View Slideshow
Patty Aguilar | 23 February, 2018, 12:09

"By publishing the data and analysis, we aim to increase transparency in the commercial fishing industry and improve opportunities for sustainable management", said lead author, David Kroodsma, the Director of Research and Development at Global Fishing Watch.

The researchers also were able to distinguish between fishing vessels from different countries.

The fish protein being measured is also caught in inland waters, and aquaculture, the controversial practice of large-scale fish farming, has expanded rapidly in recent years.

"The total area fished is likely higher", possibly up to 73 per cent, said the report.

"Fishing is happening nearly everywhere and all the time", said Jackie Savitz, chief policy officer for the advocacy group Oceana.

"I think most people will be surprised that until now we didn't really know where people were fishing in vast swaths of the ocean", said co-author Christopher Costello, a professor at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

The project's next steps, Kroodsma said, would be to take the data and see how it can be applied to policy and additional research.

There may be a lot of fish in the sea. "All these questions about how we manage the oceans, we can now answer".

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From this work from 2014 to 2016 they produced maps of where fishing activity was happening, and where it was the most intense. The North Atlantic, far northeastern Pacific, Indian Ocean and Antarctic Ocean were far more devoid of fishing. "But it's just now we can really get a good picture". According to a study released Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, researchers found more than 55 percent of the world's oceans are fished commercially, with five countries responsible for 85 percent of high seas fishing. China's fishing footprint was by far the largest, based on 2016 data.

One leading fisheries scientist said that while the study's methodology is novel, overall it reaffirms an existing picture of how much the oceans are being fished.

The researchers are banking on it. Ms. Boerder, the Dalhousie biologist, said the group is pitching the map as a monitoring and enforcement tool to the United Nations, which is in the midst of developing an worldwide treaty to protect life in the high seas - the global waters where no country has jurisdiction.They cover almost half of the planet. This new global view of fishing draws on advances in satellite technology and big data processing.

"It can be seen as one of the first instances of high-tech being turned against illegal fishing (until now, it was the pirates who used it)", he wrote in an email from Hong Kong.

Additionally, the researchers noted more than 37 million hours of fishing in 2016 and found fishing vessels traveled more than 285 million miles that year alone, a distance to the moon and back 600 times.

In the future, Pauly said the data could help shape global laws in order to reduce instances of illegal fishing. "The next thing is thus to pressure the International Maritime Organization to close the loophole they have for smaller, coastal fishing vessels, which do not need to have (electronic tracking systems)".

The study published Thursday in the journal Science is based on analyzing 22 billion automated ship safety signals beamed to satellites to map the extent of industrial fishing. Not all fishing vessels willingly broadcast their location, of course - particularly those intent on breaking the law - and vessels can switch off their trackers, potentially hindering the usefulness of the technology. Global Fishing Watch allows users to access that information to track specific vessels over time. That's because some fishing efforts in regions of poor satellite coverage or in exclusive economic zones with a low percentage of vessels using the automatic identification system (AIS) were not included.

The report does not point to illegal actors, or say whether the amount of fishing being done is too much. "It's an ecosystem that requires sustainability to survive, and we're not treating it in a sustainable fashion".

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