Our data and analysis is allowing scientists to ask fundamental questions about fishing behavior that were impossible to even investigate just last year.

Before Global Fishing Watch, estimates of where and when fishing happened were based on self-reporting by vessel captains, onboard observer data, log books and landing records. The data was inconsistent and sporadic, but it was all researchers had to go on. Global Fishing Watch is the first ever publicly available resource to provide information from direct observation of fishing vessels, and it does this for multiple years on a global scale.

Why it’s important

Many of the world’s fisheries are in trouble. Scientifically based management strategies are vital to bringing them back and to building sustainable fisheries for future generations. Without reliable data from direct observation, even the best scientific methods cannot reliably estimate how much fish people have been taking from the ocean. The Global Fishing Watch Platform provides the transparency needed for reliable estimates and a better understanding of the interactions between fishing vessels and the natural environment.

For example, our data helped National Geographic Pristine Seas reveal that the Mexican tuna fleet’s reliance on a proposed Marine Protected Area was not substantial, and the monetary value of tourism in the area outweighed that of the tuna catch. Now, the newly expanded Revillagigedo Marine Preserve will be the largest off the coast of the Americas. Pristine Seas has also incorporated our data into the successful effort to establish two new MPAs in Chile and into campaigns to establish four other no-take reserves in the France, the United Kingdom and Argentina.

Where we’re headed

We make our data and analyses freely available for others to work with, and our team is continually updating the platform. Soon we will be adding data to our public platform that distinguishes vessels by gear-type, and we are working to process data from new sources such as VIIRS satellite imagery.

By helping to  make transparency the norm, we envision a day when all countries share their VMS data, and AIS is required on all commercial fishing vessels. When the majority of all motorized fishing vessels on the ocean are visible, scientists will be able to better understand their impacts and policy makers can better manage their activities for the future.

“This data set is revolutionizing our ability to monitor and understand the dynamics of global fisheries. . . Without data to argue otherwise, proponents of the [Revillagigedo] protected area were powerless against claims from the fishing industry who argued that creating a no take marine reserve would significantly affect their livelihoods. Global Fishing Watch has completely changed this and has leveled the playing field by providing the Pristine Seas team with objective and transparent information to bring to the negotiating table.”
–  Juan Mayorga, Marine Data Scientist UCSB, National Geographic Pristine Seas 

“I had for the past 15 years worked on the effects of the global fishery on the ecosystems, and something that always struck me is that we can’t quantify the number of boats that are engaged in this, and pinpoint their locations–that’s almost like trying to manage a forest without being able to count the trees, or the logging trucks, but now with 65,000 vessels– it opens a new possibility for doing away with the guesswork and replacing it by hard data”
-Boris Worm, Marine Research Ecologist, Dalhousie University, Canada