VIDEO: GPS will be next tool used to stop overfishing

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Conservationists released a plan to map illegal fishing — from outer space — by tapping into the very global positioning and fish-finding mechanisms that help lead industrial-scale fishermen to the fish.

Soon the general public will be armed with space-based reconnaissance of the global fleet to create overfishing maps.

Crews on big fishing boats deploy an impressive arsenal of technology, ranging from advanced sonars to GPS navigation and mapping systems, as they chase down prey and trawl the seabed, according to Wired.

These tools are so effective that roughly a third of the world’s fisheries are now over-harvested and more than three-quarters of the stocks that remain have hit their sustainable limit, according to the FAO. For some species, most of the catch is unreported, unregulated or illegal.

With satellite data from SpaceQuest and financial and engineering support from Google, two environmental activist groups have built the first global surveillance system that can track large fishing vessels anywhere in the world.

A prototype of the system, called Global Fishing Watch, was unveiled Thursday at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.

The tool makes use of Google’s mapping software and servers to display the tracks followed in 2012 and 2013 by 25,000 ships that were either registered as large commercial fishers or were moving in ways that strongly suggest fishing activity.

The project was led by Oceana, a marine conservation advocacy group, and the software was developed by SkyTruth, a small nonprofit that specializes in using remote sensing technologies to map environmentally sensitive activities, such as fracking and flaring from oil and gas fields.

Although the system currently displays voyages from nearly a year ago, “the plan is that we will build out a public release version that will have near-real-time data,” Jackie Savitz, Oceana’s vice president for U.S. oceans, told Wired. “Then you’ll actually be able to see someone out there fishing within hours to days,” fast enough to act on the information if the fishing is happening illegally, such as in a marine protected area.