Is Google's collaboration destined to fail?
Google has teamed up with Oceana and SkyTruth to launch Global Fishing Watch. And before you panic, no, Google is not tracking your personal boat (unless it's huge). What the company is doing is combining interactive mapping technology, satellite technology and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmissions that are required by the United Nations for every tanker, passenger ship and commercial vessel larger than a certain size in order to combat overfishing worldwide.
Global Fishing Watch has one major issue to deal with: Boats participating in illegal activities are often manipulating their AIS data. When companies began providing free access to anyone, some people realized they were being watched and began to enter false data. Since AIS data is also used to monitor courses for collision prevention, falsifying this information can be especially dangerous.
There is plenty of data to be manipulated since AIS information includes a vessel's ID, latitude, longitude, speed, course, depth and more. Altering any of this information can hide a boat's identity, where it is going and even how much it is holding.
Further, it is not just illegal fishing vessels that are manipulating this data, but smugglers, human traffickers and even terrorists, whose fishing vessels are often allowed to enter all ports since fishing is a global industry.
Luckily, the ability of Global Fishing Watch to track a ship throughout time allows for reporting on suspicious vessels by tracking ships with erratic patterns or suspicious locations generated by entering false data. This allows Global Fishing Watch to use both legitimate and falsified data to keep an eye on global activity.
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Though tracking other nefarious activities is possible, keeping fishing vessels in line is the main focus of the program, and a task of increasing importance since more global fisheries are being fished beyond the maximum levels of sustainability.
The biggest issue for Global Fishing Watch is that vessels truly working to avoid detection will likely do so. Since the system can only report on what it sees, if the ships don't slip up and report erratic or obviously false data, they will appear in the system normally or not at all.
As the amount of ships monitored by Global Fishing Watch increases, though, it will become more difficult to slip by unnoticed.