Using Satellites, We Can Spot Pirate Fishing Boats From Space

Using Satellites, We Can Spot Pirate Fishing Boats from Space

The ocean is vast. We cannot patrol all of it. But now environmental groups are getting into the satellite game, watching for illegal fishing boats from the skies. It's just one more example of how high-quality, real-time satellite imagery can change our relationship to the world around us.

NPR has a story about Pew Charitable Trust's Eyes on the Seas, a program dedicated to combating illegal fishing. Fishing quotas are meant to protect vulnerable fish populations, but it's hard -- if not impossible -- to watch over large tracts of the ocean. To that end, they're using high-tech tools to watch from the skies.

Pew has built a "virtual watch room" using photo and radar data from satellites to patrol ships from afar. One tell-tale sign when two ships sit side-by-side and transfer fish, often evidence of laundering of illegal fish. Pew tells NPR they have already caught two illegal fishing boats using the satellite system.

Using Satellites, We Can Spot Pirate Fishing Boats from Space

Image credit: Pew Charitable Trusts

Satellite patrolling is a still a relatively new idea for environmental groups, but it has huge potential. With near real-time images, we could watch for rainforest being logged or toxic waste being dumped. And it's not just environmental groups. Stores want to track the number of cars in their parking lots. Hedge fund mangers want to use satellite imagery to predict the market.

With satellites get ever cheaper and their cameras ever more powerful, get ready to see a lot more of the world from space. [NPR]

Top image: jukurae/shutterstock

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    The problem is that it's very hard to identify fishing vessels by satellite. It is not uncommon for a lot of foreign fishing boats to be loitering perfectly legally just outside of Aus' Economic Exclusion Zone. When they don't think they're under scrutiny (e.,g. at night), they sneak across the line and fish illegally, then scurry back across. Telling which one (of literally hundreds) was the one your satellite 'saw' illegally fishing is not good enough to stand up in court.

    Last edited 09/02/15 7:54 am

      Notice the planes? they see a boat fishing illegally. They send in a plane or a drone to watch it do it.

      That is enough to hold up in court.

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