It’s easy to talk about concepts like “overfishing” in very abstract terms.

Even if we put aside all the ethical arguments, we can all agree on the simple idea that there won’t be any fish left if we keep eating them faster than new fish supplies can mature. Even internationally renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono has issued dire warnings about overfishing.

But understanding the problem alone doesn’t solve it. As Quartz reports, illegal fishing also costs the global economy an estimated $23 billion per year.

That’s why nonprofit environmental groups SkyTruth and Oceana have teamed up with Google to create Global Fishing Watch.

Global Fishing Watch will track the world’s fishing activity and monitor it in real time. The GFW group wants to put monitoring power in the hands of anyone with an internet connection—from school kids writing a science paper, to governments tracking their fishing fleets.

Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless said in a release,

“Global Fishing Watch is designed to empower all stakeholders, including governments, fishery managers, citizens and members of the fishing industry itself, so that together they may work to bring back a healthy, bio-diverse and maximally productive ocean.

“By engaging citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for managing fisheries sustainably and for enforcing fishing rules, >Global Fishing Watch will help bring back the world’s fisheries, protecting and enhancing the livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on ocean fisheries for food and income.”

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The tool works by using data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network, which was originally developed to allow ships to broadcast their locations so that they didn’t crash into each other.

Global Fishing Watch strips out data from cargo ships and other non-fishing vessels, then analyzes the identity, speed, and direction of fishing vessels to better understand their fishing activities.

President and SkyTruth founder John Amos added,

“So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean. But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before. Fishermen can show how they are doing their part to fish sustainably, we can motivate citizens to watch the places they care about, and we can all work together to restore a thriving ocean.”

Making this data available is fascinating, powerful, and more than slightly intimidating. But we definitely appreciate the notion that since it’s everyone’s world, it’s everyone’s duty to take care of it.

[via Quartz, Global Fishing Watch, Oceana]

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