The answer is not obvious, but they can. Early this week I went to a fascinating demonstration in the UK Parliament of how UK satellites have developed a Virtual Watch Room (Infographic on left, also available as a PDF), which allows people to scan for suspicious fishing vessels and help stop illegal fishing. These systems were created in cooperation between Pew Charitable Trust and the UK Satellite Catapult Center. This new way of patrolling marine protected areas is absolutely critical given the large size of modern marine protected areas. Last September the United States announced the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument, which is three times the size of California. If you are trying to enforce this type of marine protected area with a simple patrol boat, it is impossible, just like a needle in a haystack.
The new approach is much better. The satellites crunch 5 billion bits of data, gathered in just four months so far, and look for telltale signs of illegal fishing, such as boats with past illegal fishing, if they turn off their transponder (which say where they are for safety reasons), if they slow down (probably for fishing rather than full speed ahead for shipment), and if they are close by fishing beds. The more the satellites and the human overseas do this, the more data they have, and the more they learn how to use it, so it will become increasing effective. The UK technology mirrors additional work being done in the US, and is just another great example of how the U.S. and UK work together in the Special Relationship. The fish thank Pew and the Satellite Catapult for their work.
Some related articles on the U.S. Embassy’s website are:
- White House Fact Sheet on Protecting Ocean, Coasts
- Fish Are Feeding World, but Illegal Fishing Must End
- U.S., EU Join Forces to Stop Illegal Fishing