Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) announced a new initiative called Global Fishing Watch on Friday in Sydney, Australia. The new Global Fishing Watch system uses satellite data and sophisticated cloud-based software to track fishing in real time. The goal of the project is to protect marine wildlife and prevent illegal activity.

Google Launches Global Fishing Watch To Protect Marine Wildlife

The new environmental initiative is a partnership between Google and nonprofits Oceana and SkyTruth, and has complied and analyzed enough data to be able to map global fishing activity in 2012 and 2013. The parties noted they are developing a public-facing service that will allow reporting and observation of fishing in near-real-time and allow the relevant authorities to know exactly where and when illegal fishing is occurring.

Google is providing undisclosed financing for the project, as well as a variety of engineering services. The firm’s mapping software and IT infrastructure are also being used for the project.

System has limitations

Global Fishing Watch has already been used to monitor boats that have been tagged for illegal fishing, but it doesn’t pick up boats that haven’t registered with the automatic identification system (AIS), nor vessels that intentionally “go dark” when entering restricted waters. The hope is that raising public awareness will prod national governments to be more proactive in dealing with  illegal fishing in off-limits areas.

Google’s statements on the launch of Global Fishing Watch

“So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean,” John Amos, the president of SkyTruth, noted in a statement. “But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before.”

“The plan is that we will build out a public release version that will have near-real-time data,” Jackie Savitz, Oceana’s VP for US oceans, told Wired in an interview. “Then you’ll actually be able to see someone out there fishing within hours to days.”

“We think this could be a tool for positive reinforcement to reward good fishing behavior,” Brian Sullivan, of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Ocean and Earth Outreach program, explained to Wired. “If people can pay a premium for responsibly harvested fish with confidence in the supply chain, that aligns the economic incentives in a powerful way.”