The Power of Technology in the Fight Against Illegal Fishing

One of the great things about working for Paul Allen is that every day we get the opportunity to pursue unconventional solutions to tackling some of the world’s hardest problems.

Guided by Paul’s vision and his longtime love of our oceans, we have been examining how technology and the power of the private sector can help restore the health of our oceans. Several years ago, we spotted an opportunity and focused our resources on a crisis that threatens not just ocean health and entire ecosystems, but economic, national, and global security: illegal fishing.

The crisis of illegal fishing

Healthy oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe, sixty-five percent of the fish we eat, and $2.5 trillion in annual commerce. But, our oceans are on an unsustainable path. Climate change is driving ocean acidification and warming temperatures, and over-fishing threatens the collapse of entire ecosystems. Eighty-five percent of all commercial fish stocks are fished up to their biological limits (Marine Policy 2014) and, since 1970, global fish stocks have been cut in half (WWF 2014).

Illegal fishing – which includes fishing in national waters where you don’t have a license, fishing in a protected area, fishing beyond quotas, and using illegal techniques and gear, like illegal drift nets – is a major driver of this crisis. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing accounts for an estimated 20 percent of the catch (Marine Policy 2014), losses of up to $23.5 billion annually (WWF), and 20-32% of fish imported to the United States (Marine Policy, 2014). It’s not just a problem ‘over there;’ it’s our problem, and it’s robbing our oceans.

Why technology and the private sector can help in the fight

We believe technology and the private organizations like Vulcan Inc. can effectively drive change in massive global challenges like this one. We have a track record of doing just that. Consider, for example, our Domain Awareness System (DAS), which we developed to help fight animal poaching in large and remote areas in Africa. It’s an integrated software and data visualization platform that monitors, in real-time, threatened animals and the resources that protect them. DAS integrates positioning data from radios, vehicles, aircraft and animal sensors to provide users with a real-time dashboard. That enables enforcement in vast areas where real-time data is essential to meaningful action and impact on illicit activities. By this September, we will have deployed DAS at sites that cover more than 90,000 square kilometers of protected land in Africa.

The common thread in all of this: Integrating technology and artificial intelligence with law enforcement to fight crime and restore the health of our ecosystems.

Our solution

We believe there is an opportunity for disruption in illegal fishing, and we are developing a concept to address this crisis. We started development on this project in 2016 with our team of in-house experts in aerospace, maritime security, conservation policy, and technology development. Together, we have built an illegal fishing detection system that uses data science, computer vision, and machine learning to automatically turn multiple data streams into intelligence about illegal fishing activity that we can deliver to governments around the world – so they can act. We are also leveraging our investments in satellite data and imagery and examining how we can complement existing data sources – so we have a more integrated system that can produce better intelligence. As we talk to people responsible for enforcement around the world, we repeatedly hear that this capability can be a game changer.

Our goal: Better enforcement and healthier oceans

Our goal in all of this? Provide governments with better, faster data that enables on-water enforcement, protects global fish stocks, and strengthens the health and security of our oceans.

That’s the goal of many countries and organizations around our planet – and we are excited to join the fight alongside them for a better future for our oceans.

Be sure to stay tuned.