The ability for satellite sensors to detect lit fishing boats has been known since the 1970s. However, the use of the observations has been limited by the lack of an automatic algorithm for reporting the location and brightness of offshore lighting features arising from boats. An examination of lit fishing boat features in Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) day/night band (DNB) data indicates that the features are essentially spikes. We have developed a set of algorithms for automatic detection of spikes and characterization of the sharpness of spike features. A spike detection algorithm generates a list of candidate boat detections. A second algorithm measures the height of the spikes for the discard of ionospheric energetic particle detections and to rate boat detections as either strong or weak. A sharpness index is used to label boat detections that appear blurry due to the scattering of light by clouds. The candidate spikes are then filtered to remove features on land and gas flares. A validation study conducted using analyst selected boat detections found the automatic algorithm detected 99.3% of the reference pixel set. VIIRS boat detection data can provide fishery agencies with up-to-date information of fishing boat activity and changes in this activity in response to new regulations and enforcement regimes. The data can provide indications of illegal fishing activity in restricted areas and incursions across Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries. VIIRS boat detections occur widely offshore from East and Southeast Asia, South America and several other regions.
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