Our transshipment report revealed the first global footprint of potential transshipment at sea.

With two hundred thousand ships on the ocean, spotting a refrigerated cargo vessel meeting up with a fishing vessel could take an analyst months on end. The artificial intelligence system we developed does it automatically. Using machine learning, our data scientists analyzed the movement of refrigerated cargo ships (reefers) to detect potential rendezvous with fishing vessels. Our transshipment report identified and mapped more than 5,500 likely rendezvous over a 5-year period. It is the first global footprint of such rendezvous ever published.

Why it’s important

In a process called transshipment, refrigerated cargo vessels (reefers) gather catch from multiple fishing boats while at sea for transfer to port. They are, in effect, floating ports but far less regulated. Transshipment enables “laundering” of illegal fish by mixing it with legal catch. It can enable fishers to “steal” fish from one country’s waters, and it skews estimates of the global fish harvest. It is also associated with human rights abuses such as slave labor on fishing vessels that rarely need to return to port. Our transshipment report highlighted its extent and revealed patterns of transshipment by certain fleets and countries.

In addition, the algorithm we developed is being used to identify suspicious rendezvous for further investigation. In August, for example, when a reefer was caught illegally transporting tons of shark through Galapagos waters, our analyst traced its behavior to find it had likely transshipped them from four fishing vessels just days earlier. The discovery exposed the behavior of fishing vessels that would previously have gone undetected.

Where we’re headed

Our transshipment report and the underlying data are free for others to work with. Soon we will be adding a transshipment layer to our public map, enabling everyone to see potential rendezvous between reefers and fishing vessels. Meanwhile, our analysts and data scientists continue to search the data to find patterns and associations that reveal where transshipment occurs and how different fleets engage in the behavior. Our efforts can provide important insights to inform any future transshipment policies.

With a fleet of millions of fishing boats operating in every corner of the globe, often hundreds or even thousands of miles from land, we need greater transparency in order to tackle many of the problems we see on the oceans. Global Fishing Watch is an amazing resource to shine light on what’s happening at sea, and [their transshipment report] gets at the sheer scale of the picture that’s difficult for people to conceptualize.
– John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director, Greenpeace US

. . . this new platform comes under the heading “reveal” – and shows how fast growing capacity to impose transparency stands to fast forward environmental progress. – Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times