The Unexpected Answer To Illegal Fishing… Hackers

By: Joseph Simonds on June 18, 2015
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illegal fishing hackers

Imagine looking down at your phone while your friend is fighting a fish next to you, and you tell him or her the approximate size, weight, and species before your friend ever lays eyes on the fish…

Well this scenario might seem like science fiction today,  but it is something that hackers are working on and discussing behind the fishing scenes right now.

More on that in a moment.

Revenge of the Fishing Nerds

illegal fishing hackers

Akshunna Dogra (far right) and Arvi Gjoka (r) of New York University approach Timotius Sitorus (far left) and Mohammed Ali (l) of Stony Brook University after the keynote session to see what problems the pair will attempt to solve with coding at Fishackathon Friday, June 5, 2015. Photo by Carey Reed/NewsHour

These hackers above were among 116 hackers in 12 cities worldwide that were participating in the second annual Fishackathon that went down last month. This “Hackathon” aimed at helping fishing and curtailing illegal fishing brought together an fun mix of coders, foodies, students, and concerned fishing citizens.

The Mission of Fishackathon: To create mobile apps and other devices to help anglers around the globe report catches, build better management systems, and create the largest network imaginable to monitor illegal fishing.

And if you haven’t heard of Fishackathon, don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it before either until I started doing some research. As it turns out, the first ever Fishackathon was last year (2014), and because of the wide success that came from the inaguaral event, they decided to do a second Fishackathon this year.

During this year’s 2nd annual Fishackaton, the hacker groups focused on four categories of fishing problems that were submitted from small fishing communities. The coders also targeted fishing issues submitted through the U.S. State Department (which dreamt up this unique fishing event a year ago), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The biggest issue for the hackers to attack this year was fish traceability:

  • Knowing exactly where the fish we eat every day comes from
  • How the fish was handled along the way to your plate
  • Whether any international laws were violated with the catching of the fish
  • All which help eliminate illegal fishing practices

Last year’s biggest Fishackathon target was creating mobile apps to count fish catches, as well as alert authorities to illegal fishing vessels. The fishing apps that were created last year can help spot illegal activity on the world’s oceans, such as boats crossing into protected marine reserves to fish, or other activity that is usually linked to illegal fishing.

Illegal Fishing & Hackers

illegal fishing hackers

Sharks on display overseas

So why is all of this “Illegal Fishing Hacking” important?

Well here are a couple of key stats:

  • One-third of the world’s population relies on fish as their main source of protein
  • In 2012 alone, more than 90 million tons of fish were caught globally, with an estimated value of $130 billion
  • The fishing industry employs roughly 12% of the world population
  • Illegal fishing is a HUGE business that globally accounts for as much as $23 billion a year! In the United States alone it is estimated that as much as 23 percent of wild-caught fish comes from illegal sources, according to a 2014 study from Marine Policy.

If we want our future generations to enjoy the oceans, to enjoy fish, and to enjoy fishing as much as we did, then it is our duty to help protect what we have slowly destroyed over the years.

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We find ourselves in a pretty critical time in regards to illegal fishing and protecting our oceans right now.

The bad news is that due to overfishing, pollution, and illegal fishing we have done some pretty serious damage to our fisheries.

The good news is that it isn’t too late to fix many of the issues. And the great news is that we have hackers like the uber-smart people from Fishackathon that are harnessing technology to greatly reduce the amount of illegal fishing going on in the world (illegal fishing accounts for an estimated $23 billion per year of the world’s fish).

So illegal fishermen, watch your back… Hackers are coming for you.


P.S. – If you think your friends/network would find this useful, please share it with them – I’d really appreciate it


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