Leonardo DiCaprio helps Oceana fight illegal fishing

Thinking of poaching a protected reef? Big Data is watching you, with a little help from the "Wolf of Wall Street" and an ocean watchdog.

And the new satellite-driven system already has snagged one commercial fishing company to the tune of $2 million.

Academy award winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio is expected to announce Thursday the official launch of Oceana's new free online interactive tool, called Global Fishing Watch, which last year helped nab a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel fishing illegally in a protected area.

Now, anyone can go on www.globalfishingwatch.org to police the seas. Oceana hopes the new tool will help fishery managers to stop illegal fishing. Users can generate authorization lists to see who's allowed to fish in certain areas. Nations can ensure only authorized vessels enter their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), generally 200 nautical miles from a country’s coastline.

Oceana also hopes the tool will promote more transparency and honesty in seafood supply chains, reducing seafood fraud and allowing consumers to choose sustainable seafood more effectively. Suppliers can see where and how fish are being caught. Researchers and journalists can examine fishing impacts on ecological health.

DiCaprio's announcement was timed for the first day of the U.S. State Department's Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting the two-day event.

Oceana officials said DiCaprio's foundation paid a majority (about $6 million) of the $10.3 million Global Fishing Watch project. That budget covers the cost of the satellite data for the online tool for three years, after which they hope to continue the effort.

"Heat maps" light up with bright-white blotches that show clusters of fishing activity. Users zoom in to see just how far and wide commercial fishing vessels will go to net a profitable catch.

"It is pretty shocking for people to see the breadth of these fleets and just how far they go," said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for the United States and Global Fishing Watch at Oceana.

Oceana partnered with SkyTruth and Google to create the free online tool.

Global Fishing Watch tracks 35,000 commercial fishing vessels worldwide.

The site is regularly updated to show the fishing activity "heat maps" and vessel tracks dating back to Jan. 1, 2012, through three days prior to the present.

Global Fishing Watch uses public broadcast data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), collected by satellite and land-based receivers, to show where fishing vessels go.

The tool has already helped catch one commercial fishing company red-handed.

The Republic of Kiribati, population 100,000, has only one patrol vessel to police more than 157,000-square-mile coral reef protection zone in the Central Pacific Ocean, some 1,300 miles south of Hawaii.

But when a 230-foot commercial fishing vessel crossed into the newly created Phoenix Island Protected Area last year, the tiny Central Pacific nation had a global conservation group, Google Earth, SkyTruth, 17 satellites and an international movie star in its corner.

Global Fishing Watch helped prove that Marshalls 203, a Marshall Islands flagged purse seiner, was fishing illegally in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Purse seins are huge walls of netting used to wrap around entire schools of fish.

Global Fishing Watch's data and images helped put the Central Pacific Fishing Company, owner of Marshalls 203, on the hook for a $1 million fine. The company also agreed to pay the government another $1 million grant as a special “goodwill arrangement.”

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is a "no-take" Marine Protected Area, which prohibits all fishing and extraction measures within its boundaries, year-round. The ban started on Jan. 1, 2015.

Oceana has used its new interactive tool to document the success of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, showing a drastic reduction in detected fishing activity following establishment of the new no-take area.

Oceana buys the satellite data from ORBCOMM, a telecommunications company based in New Jersey. They tap data from 17 It’s the ORBCOMM's OG2 commercial satellite network, launched in recent years on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

Global Fishing Watch can't see all illegal fishing because typically only the largest vessels that catch the most fish have to use a Automatic Identification System. But many nations and intergovernmental agencies may require them in coming years. All commercial U.S. flagged fishing vessels over 65 feet in length and all European Union flagged fishing vessels over 15 meters (49.2 feet) in length are required to have them.

Oceana hopes for market incentives for more vessels to use AIS, or disincentives for not doing so, such as access to seafood markets or the U.S. and E.U. penalizing imports that fail to use an AIS.

Some captains tamper with their AIS to get around the rules. Oceana's seen vessel tracks that appear in the Himalayan Mountains and over Antarctica. They can't always say for sure whether an AIS has been tampered with, they say, but the errors tend to follow similar patterns. Errors often vary from a vessel’s true location by a constant distance, or a coordinate flips from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. Once Oceana identifies the patterns, they say they often can correct false locations.

Fishermen who turn off their AIS risk ship collisions.

The tool might yield clues to other unusual activity that could yield clues for drug running or avoiding port because of use of slave labor, Oceana says.

Although they see some problem spots, Savitz said early glimpses thus far from Global Fishing Watch reveal some good news: most vessels follow the rules.

"At some level, it tells us that marine protected areas actually work," she said.

Funding for Global Fishing Watch includes the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Marisla Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Wyss Foundation, The Waterloo Foundation and Adessium Foundation.

To explore the new interactive tool, visit www.globalfishingwatch.org


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