Fishing boats. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Fishing boats. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Seattle — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, concerned about illegal fishing depleting global fish populations, will spend $40m to develop a system that uses satellite imagery and data-analysis software to help countries spot and catch unlicensed fishing boats.

Called SkyLight, the system is being tested off the Pacific island of Palau and off Gabon.

Allen is trying to use technology to aid enforcement, particularly in countries with thousands of kilometres of coastline to patrol and few resources to do so. Allen will announce the initiative at the Our Oceans Conference in Malta on Friday.

Illegal fishing accounts for about 20% of the world’s catch, costing up to $23.5bn a year, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, and placing additional stress on a wild fish population that has declined by about half since 1970.

Overfishing raises the risk of conflict among fishing nations and of hunger and joblessness in a sector that provides employment for more than one in 10 of the world’s people.

Allen, an avid diver, has backed other ocean health projects. SkyLight, which will be broadly available in the first half of 2018, takes multiple data sources from satellite images, shipping records and information collected by officials at docks, and uses machine learning software to track and predict which vessels might be operating illegally.


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