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llicit fishing goes on every day at an industrial scale. But large commercial fishers are about to get a new set of overseers: conservationists—and soon the general public—armed with space-based reconnaissance of the global fleet.

Crews on big fishing boats deploy an impressive arsenal of technology—from advanced sonars to GPS navigation and mapping systems—as they chase down prey and trawl the seabed. These tools are so effective that roughly a third of the world’s fisheries are now overharvested, and more than three-quarters of the stocks that remain have hit their sustainable limits, according to the FAO. For some species, most of the catch is unreported, unregulated, or flat-out illegal.

 

But now environmentalists are using sophisticated technology of their own to peel away that cloak of invisibility. With satellite data from SpaceQuest and financial and engineering support from Google, two environmental activist groups have built the first global surveillance system that can track large fishing vessels anywhere in the world.

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