More than one billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food with 260 million employed by global marine fisheries alone. All of this industrial machinery powers a 1.5–2.5 trillion dollar ‘blue economy' that is growing faster than the overall global economy but is also causing rapid environmental decline. A third of fish stocks are operated beyond biologically sustainable levels and an estimated 30–50% of critical marine habitats have been lost owing to human industrialization.
A lack of global observational data limits understanding of where and how the blue economy is expanding and how it is affecting developing nations and coastal communities.
'Nature' combines satellite imagery, vessel GPS data and deep-learning models to map industrial vessel activities and offshore energy infrastructure across the world’s coastal waters from 2017 to 2021. They find that 72–76% of the world’s industrial fishing vessels are not publicly tracked, with much of that fishing taking place around South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Most worryingly, numerous fishing vessels not publicly tracked were also detected inside many marine protected areas (MPAs)!