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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2019

The winners of the Ocean Awards 2019

3 of 8 3/8

The Science Award: David Kroodsma

Director of research, Global Fishing Watch

This award recognises the individual or research team that has made the most important scientific contribution to the ocean this year.

Global Fishing Watch is an independent international NGO originally set up by international ocean conservation organisation Oceana, satellite technology company SkyTruth and Google. Its mission is to advance the stewardship and sustainability of the oceans by monitoring global commercial fishing activity. Its director of research, David Kroodsma, crunches the data it collects to shed light on just how much fishing goes on in the world – and how that damages the oceans.

As lead author of Tracking the global footprint of fisheries, a research project to ascertain the global reach of industrial fishing, he and his colleagues tracked more than 70,000 large industrial fishing vessels between 2012 and 2016, processing 22 billion automatic identification system messages. In number, these boats may account for only a small fraction of the world’s fishing vessels, but they “are responsible for the majority of fishing efforts in the high seas”.

The results were sobering. There is industrial fishing in 55 per cent of the world’s oceans, which means intensive fishing has a spatial reach more than four times that of agriculture. In one year, he says, “The vessels we tracked traversed a combined distance equal to travelling to the Moon and back 600 times.”

It should be added that Global Fishing Watch’s findings were not uncontroversial. Scientists at the University of Washington have challenged the extent of the affected waters. But as Kroodsma says, “‘Area fished’ is a poorly defined term.” And in any case, debate is “healthy… We welcome collaboration.” Indeed, the exchange on the pages of Science magazine, The Atlantic, via Twitter and on his blog, “has helped raise awareness of different ways to measure, understand and communicate the extent of fishing”.

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