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Researchers from Dalhousie University help track fishing from space for the first time ever

Posted by Media Centre on February 22, 2018 in Faculty of Science, News

(Halifax, NS) – Humans have been fishing for at least 42,000 years, and for the first time ever, its global footprint can be tracked from space.

Researchers from Dalhousie University have partnered with Global Fishing Watch, The University of California, Stanford University, National Geographic Society, SkyTruth, and Google to produce the first ever dataset of global industrial fishing activities by using an unprecedented collection of satellite-sensed automatic identification system (AIS) positions, machine learning, and computing power.

The findings from their research demonstrate the massive global extent of fishing activity, both within countries’ exclusive economic zones, but also on the high seas, in unprecedented resolution.

“This study reveals fishing as an industrial process in which vessels operate more like floating factories that need to operate around the clock to make money,” says Dr. Boris Worm, a Marine Biology Professor in Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Science, and co-author of the paper. “On the upside, however, this dataset also shows more clearly where management boundaries are in place and where they are helping to constrain fishing effort.”

40 million hours of fishing were observed in 2016, and fishing vessels traveled more than 460 million kilometers – a distance to the moon and back 600 times. At least 55% of the ocean is covered by fishing activities, a global footprint that is at least four times as large as that of agriculture.

“Even after working with the data for years I am still blown away to see the huge spatial extent of global fisheries in such detail,” says Kristina Boerder, a PhD student from Dalhousie University’s Department of Biology, and
co-author of the paper. “Working with satellite tracking data means quite literally ‘connecting the dots’ on how more than 70,000 industrial fishing vessels are scouring the global ocean.”

The dataset developed by the researchers will be freely available to the public, which will allow anyone to download, visualize and analyze the global footprint of fishing.

“By publishing the data and analysis, we aim to increase transparency in the commercial fishing industry and improve opportunities for sustainable management.” says David Kroodsma, Lead Author and Director of Research and Development of Global Fishing Watch.

The study, titled “Tracking the global footprint of fisheries,” appears in Vol. 361, Issue 6378 of Science. The datasets, including gridded fishing activity data, vessel identity and classification lists, and encounters between refrigerated cargo vessels and fishing vessels, spanning from 2012 to three days from the present, are available for download for non-commercial uses via Global Fishing Watch’s Research Accelerator Program. Learn more here.


Media Contacts:

Michele Charlton
Communications Advisor, Research
Dalhousie University
Tel: (902) 494-4148
Cell: (902) 222-2817


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