Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen is investing $40 million to develop a system that uses satellite imagery and data-analysis software to help countries spot and catch unlicensed fishing boats, Bloomberg reports.
Announced last week during the Our Oceans Conference in Malta, the SkyLight system is being tested in the Pacific Ocean island nation of Palau and in Gabon, Africa. The system is designed to strengthen the enforcement of fishing regulations, particularly in countries with thousands of miles of coastline to patrol and few resources to do so. According to the World Wildlife Fund, illegal fishing accounts for about 20 percent of the world's catch, placing additional stress on wild fish populations. With approximately 90 percent of the world's fishing grounds being harvested at or beyond sustainable limits, many species are threatened with extinction. Shrinking supplies of fish populations off the central and western coasts of Africa also have raised concerns about future food shortages in the region. Indeed, overfishing increases the risk of conflict among fishing nations and could significantly reduce the number of jobs in an industry that provides employment for more than 10 percent of the world's population.
SkyLight, which will be made broadly available in the first half of 2018, takes data from satellite images, shipping records, and information manually collected by officials standing on docks and uses machine-learning software to track and predict which vessels might be operating illegally. Over time, Allen's company, Vulcan Inc., will build a database of all the boats tracked, enabling countries to better focus their limited resources. Allen's investment will cover costs associated with setting up and launching the system in the first group of participating countries, while Vulcan will use the fees it charges those countries to expand it to other countries.
"The stakes [of illegal fishing] are high and the threat is real," said Dave Stewart, general counsel and head of government affairs for Vulcan. "Very few countries have access to timely, actionable intelligence and technology to address this issue. We are developing an illegal fishing intelligence network that will bring this to them."
To see who else is funding and working on sustainable fishing efforts, check out Foundation Center's FundingtheOcean.org data portal.