Tracking the Global Footprint of Fisheries

Although fishing is one of the most widespread activities by which humans harvest natural resources, its global footprint is poorly understood and has never been directly quantified. We processed 22 billion automatic identification system messages and tracked >70,000 industrial fishing vessels from 2012 to 2016, creating a global dynamic footprint of fishing effort with spatial and temporal resolution two to three orders of magnitude higher than for previous data sets. Our data show that industrial fishing occurs in >55% of ocean area and has a spatial extent more than four times that of agriculture. We find that global patterns of fishing have surprisingly low sensitivity to short-term economic and environmental variation and a strong response to cultural and political events such as holidays and closures.

As the human population has grown in recent decades, our dependence on ocean-supplied protein has rapidly increased. Kroodsma et al. took advantage of the automatic identification system installed on all industrial fishing vessels to map and quantify fishing efforts across the world (see the Perspective by Poloczanska). More than half of the world's oceans are subject to industrial-scale harvest, spanning an area four times that covered by terrestrial agriculture. Furthermore, fishing efforts seem not to depend on economic or environmental drivers, but rather social and political schedules. Thus, more active measures will likely be needed to ensure sustainable use of ocean resources.

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