Alphabet, Inc. Helps Crack Down On Illegal Fishing

Alphabet, Inc. Helps Crack Down On Illegal Fishing (GOOG GOOGL) By Rakesh Sharma
The Alphabet Google (GOOG) is fishing for illegal ships.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has partnered with Skytruth, a satellite imagery company, and Oceana, an ocean advocacy nonprofit, to launch Global Fishing Watch – a crowd-sourced ship surveillance system that will enable governments and ordinary citizens to track illegal fishing vessels. It was launched in November 2014 but was formally unveiled last week at the Our Ocean conference organized by the State Department. According to an article in the Washington Post, the system is part of a “broader international push” to clamp down on international fishing. In addition to causing ecological damage, illegal fishing also has an economic component. According to estimates, it is responsible for losses of between $10 billion and $20 billion annually. (See also: GE, BMW Join Google VC In 3D Startup).

Global Fishing Watch uses a big data approach to solve the illegal fishing problem. It combines data from an assortment of sources to create a “true story” of the vessel. For example, it uses data from the Automatic Identification System, which is already used to track ships worldwide, government agencies, and shipping companies. A combination of this data dump helps intelligence agencies track and surmise the intent of a vessel by looking at its movements. As an example, there is a good chance that a vessel moving back and forth in a certain area without any specific business there is trawling for fish. The Government of Kiribati, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, used the technology to detect an illegal fishing village in a protected area last year. (See also: Silicon Valley Startups Fly Into Space).

To be sure, illegal fishing is a multilayered problem. Shipping vessels can turn off their AIS Trackers or refuse to disclose their location. Then, there are the numbers. As of May last year, Global Fishing Watch was tracking only 40,000 of an estimated four million vessels in the seas. Finally, there is the international framework of treaties and agreements between countries that will be required to curb illegal fishing. For example, Indonesia’s sinking of 60 boats off its coasts was as much about cracking down on illegal fishing as about asserting its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea waters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told The Post that his government was trying to “create accountability, where there is very little.” Earlier this year, an international treaty known as the Port State Measures Agreement was signed to “improve the ability to detect illegal fishing, stop illegal caught fish from reaching ports and markets and sharing information about illicit fishing vessels among nations.” Global Fishing Watch is ostensibly designed to aid in this effort.
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