Fisheries resource alert: up to 75% of the world’s fishing vessels are invisible to tracking

A recently published study on Nature allows us to better understand the true scale of the damage that industrial fishing vessels are causing to fish stocks around the world. Through cooperation with Bloomberg Philanthropiesof National Geographic Pristine Seas and Oceankind and google, American researchers Fernando Paolo AND David Kroodsma in fact, they found that a large proportion of boats escape public surveillance and thus can fish in international and coastal waters without any control.

They did this by using artificial intelligence and images from various satellites and machine learning systems, data and information used to make the first global map of large vessel traffic and coastal infrastructure. “Such a map helped reveal a significant amount of activity that was previously ‘dark’ to public monitoring systems,” said two researchers associated with Global fishing watch.

For example, in the period 2017-2021, the researchers detected ships and coastal infrastructure in the coastal waters of all continents, and by synthesizing their GPS data over all those years, they were able to identify which fishing vessels were not broadcasting their location. Since these boats were, among other things, in the most fishy areas of the planet, the researchers then linked their presence in these places, when they had their GPS turned off, to illegal fishing activities, that is, not approved by the control agencies. However, the researchers would like to point out that not all countries require fishing vessels to report their location during fishing operations. A situation that is therefore very dangerous for those ecosystems that already suffer from excessive levels of overfishing.

These silent ships are often called English “dark fleets” or “dark fleets” and they present a number of challenges for the protection not only of fish stocks, but also of dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and all other by-victims of fishing. Among other things, the researchers also found that it is quite common for several fishermen to enter marine protected areas to fish in their waters and in violation of the law.

In this image it is possible to see which ships are tracked and which are not tracked and which have sailed through the Strait of Sicily in recent years.

Overall, the researchers say that approx 75% of the world’s fishing fleet has the habit of fishing in no-fishing areas and turning off their GPS, to not report their location and alert the relevant authorities. An extremely disheartening fact that allows us to better understand why conservation biologists and marine biologists are particularly pessimistic about these issues. The amount of illegal fishing has actually been increasing in recent years, so the simple fact that national governments do not know how to manage or ignore the behavior of their fishermen is alarming.

“Much of the fishing takes place in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa,” the two researchers explained in their study. – We also found that 21-30% of marine vessel activity is missing from public tracking systems. Globally, fisheries have declined by 12% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and have not returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. In contrast, shipping and offshore energy-related ship activity remained relatively unchanged over the same period. time.”

More than a billion people depend on the ocean as their primary source of food. If overfishing began to cause a dramatic decline in the populations of the fish species most consumed by humans, it would be a real disaster. For this reason, experts are asking all governments to change their regulations and prioritize policies that force industrial fishing vessels to follow the rules.

To quickly understand the extent of the problem, you can connect directly to the Global Fishing Watch website and track the number of boats that are not complying with the rules and not reporting their position to the authorities.

Patrick Halpin, professor of ecology at Duke University and another important author of the study, commented on this news in detail. “The footprint of the Anthropocene is no longer limited to land. A more comprehensive view of ocean industrialization allows us to see new growth in offshore wind, aquaculture and mining rapidly adding to established industrial fishing, shipping and oil and gas extraction. Our work therefore reveals that the global ocean is a busy, crowded and complex industrial workspace of a growing blue economy.”

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