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Using Satellites, We Can Spot Pirate Fishing Boats from Space

Illustration for article titled 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.

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NPR has a story about Pew Charitable Trust's Eyes on the Seas, a program dedicated to combatting 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.

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Illustration for article titled 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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DISCUSSION

Great great stuff, a very exciting and promising use of available technology.

I now hope that the Pew-SAC partnership can utilize the match-pattern concept to concentrate on the Sea of Cortez and finally put an end to the massive over-harvest of illegally undersized juvenile Bluefin Tuna by the Japanese. Horrific by any standard, the Bluefin are essentially gone, and the Japanese alone are to blame.

Excellent post. Thank you Sarah.