Get answers to commonly asked questions about Global Fishing Watch and commercial fishing.
Photo: © Bento Viana

FAQs 2017-12-22T18:29:28+00:00

If you don’t find an answer to your questions here, you might find it in the Global Fishing Watch community discussions.

Is Google paying for Indonesia’s VMS data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Google does not receive the VMS data. The VMS data is shared with Global Fishing Watch, Inc. which is an independent, not-for-profit company supported exclusively by philanthropic donations. Google does not pay for the data and Google does not get to use the data.

Global Fishing Watch does not pay for the VMS data, and GFW does not sell the data to anyone. All the services that GFW provides to the public and privately to the KKP are provided for free through the generosity of the Walton and Packard foundations as well as the other GFW funders.

Google does provide support for GFW by donating technology services, such as cloud computing and machine learning resources. Google does not receive any money from Global Fishing Watch.

Why isn’t the US sharing VMS data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

The United States does not publicly share VMS data as a matter of policy. Global Fishing Watch and many other organizations are advocating for all countries, including the United States, to share more of their fisheries data publicly, and we will be happy to publish VMS data from the US whenever the government is willing to release it. The US does require all fishing vessels over 65 feet in length to use AIS, so many large commercial fishing vessels in the US are already publicly trackable.

Are there concerns about Indonesia sharing their VMS data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

No matter what the industry, increasing transparency is always met with some anxiety from some corners. These are the concerns we’ve heard:

  • Sharing VMS is an invasion of privacy and it reveals fishing grounds to competitors. Larger vessels fishing in Indonesia are already required to reveal this information by carrying publicly broadcast Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). In addition, vessels fishing in other countries, such as the European Union, are already operating under this level of transparency.
  • Won’t sharing VMS simply force bad guys to turn off their VMS, undermining those who play by the rules and creating unfair competition? On the contrary, turning off VMS will raise suspicion among authorities and draw attention to illegal activity.
Does sharing VMS data spill Indonesian state secrets? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

No. In addition to limiting the information available on the public platform, extracting all sensitive data, we publish VMS and AIS data on a 72 hour delay. What we publish in Global Fishing Watch approximates the vessel information already being shared by the European Union and some other countries.

Why is transparency important to Indonesians? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Illegal and unreported fishing has been a problem in Indonesian waters, as it is in many places around the world. Fishing vessels take catch without permits or take more than quotas allowed. Minister Susi is especially concerned about the impact of transshipment in her waters. Transshipment is the practice of transferring catch from one vessel to another, usually to a large refrigerated cargo ship that can collect catch from many vessels before taking it to port, sometimes halfway around the world. The concern for Susi is that fishing vessels are catching fish in Indonesian waters and transshipping it on the high seas, essentially stealing Indonesian fish. In addition, by offloading catch to another vessel, a boat may appear to have not met their quota, so they can continue fishing. They not only steal fish, but they avoid quotas and taxes on what they catch.

How does Indonesia benefit from sharing VMS data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Foreign vessel owners and operators will know that fishing in Indonesian waters means operating in an environment where it is harder to undermine effective management and oversight.

By establishing a high standard for transparent operation, the government can easily justify strong transparency requirements for foreign vessels and operators, because the same rules are applied to domestic operators.

In addition to public sharing, the Indonesian ministry of fisheries is gaining insight into their VMS data through working with Global Fishing Watch. Our analysts are assisting them in developing new ways to use their data for improved vessel monitoring and enforcement.

By being the first to share its VMS data, Indonesia is a leader on the world stage, encouraging other nations to embrace transparency and allowing Indonesia to better monitor the vessels of other countries.

What other countries operate with similar transparency or share similar data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

With the sharing of VMS data, Indonesia now joins a larger community of nations that have demonstrated the value and success of sharing fishing vessel time-location data as part of transparency efforts.

Since 2009, countries in the European Union have exhibited the same level of transparency. They require vessels of 15 meters (49 feet) and longer to carry publicly broadcast Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). Indonesia’s AIS requirements are not as stringent, but the VMS requirements are, requiring VMS on fishing vessels with a capacity of more than 30 Gross Tons, which averages about 16 meters (52 ft) in length. So, opening of VMS data brings Indonesia closer to a level of transparency that already exists in Europe.

It’s worth noting that nearly all of Norway’s fishing vessels broadcast AIS, and the Global Fishing Watch map currently displays more than 99 percent of the AIS-broadcasting vessels around the world.

Is Indonesia the first country to publicly share VMS data? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Indonesia is the first country we know of to share VMS publicly. Peru has committed to sharing their VMS data next, and Global Fishing Watch is in discussion with other countries now. We are prepared to work with any nations interested in publishing their VMS data in order to make commercial fishing activity more transparent to the world.

Is your website mobile friendly? Is it accessible on a phone or tablet? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Yes. We have made improvements to mobile access to the Global Fishing Watch map. The map may work better on tablets than on phones, and performance may vary depending on the specifications of your mobile device.

How do I reset my password? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

Please visit our login page here and click “Forgot your password?” on the bottom of the page. This will direct you to reset your password.

How do I opt out of receiving marketing communications? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

We’ve made it easy for you to manage what types of emails you receive. Simply navigate to the bottom of the email you received and look for the “update subscription preferences” link. From there, you may manage the types of marketing emails you receive. You may also opt out of all marketing emails by using the “unsubscribe from this list” option.

Please note: even if you opt out of receiving marketing emails, you may still receive administrative emails related to your account. These include replies to inquiries you make through our “Contact Us” page, password reset notifications or replies to requests for Map support.

What should I do if I receive a “page not found” error or see a blank page on the screen? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

First, be sure you are using one of our recommended browsers such as Chrome or Firefox. Please check your internet connection to ensure that it has not been lost, as this is a common reason. If the error persists, please try closing your browser and restarting it or clearing your cache and then trying to access the website.

What browsers is Global Fishing Watch compatible with? 2017-12-28T14:58:01+00:00

We recommend using Chrome or Firefox as your browser for viewing Global Fishing Watch. We do not yet recommend using Safari or Internet Explorer for viewing Global Fishing Watch, although we expect to optimize Global Fishing Watch for those browsers in the near future.

How do I move my saved workspaces from the original version to the Beta Release 2.0? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to manually recreate the workspace in the new version.

How do I import my own custom layer? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00
  1. In the toolbox, open the Layers tab.
  2. Click on Custom Layer.
  3. Name your layer, enter a .kml link, and add a description for your layer.
  4. You may now view your layer overlayed with our fishing activity data.

    To make your file into a .kml:

    1. Open Google Earth Pro. Download available here: https://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html
    2. Upload your file.
    3. Save as .kml.
    4. Upload your .kml into Dropbox.
    5. Copy the link from Dropbox and paste into the Custom Layer tab.
    6. Change the last number in the link from a 0 to a 1.
How do I create a report of fishing activity? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

In the map toolbox, open the Layers tab, then open “map layers.”

  1. Click the report icon (closest icon to the layer name) for the layer you are interested in observing (MPA-No Take, MPA-Restricted Use, EEZ, or RFMO). The report icon will turn white when selected.
  2. Click within the area you are interested in (e.g. within the MPA-No Take you are interested in, if you selected the report feature for the MPA-No Take layer).
  3. A pop-up box will appear with the name of the area you have selected. Click “Add to report.”
  4. You may select multiple regions.
  5. In the toolbox, click Send Report.
  6. The report will be emailed to you as an attached file in a few minutes.
How can I change the time period I see on the slider? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

The time slider at the bottom of the map determines the time period you are viewing. There are several ways to manipulate the time slider:

  • Click on the Start Date in the bottom left corner or End Date in the bottom right corner. A calendar will pop up and allow you to select dates.
  • Click on the bars on the left or right edge of the Time Slider, hold and drag to change the start or end time.
  • Click on the gear icon in the upper left corner of the box in the in Time Slider and select the time frame you are interested in.
How do I view a particular country’s fishing fleet? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

Click on the Filter tab in the toolbox and select the country you are interested in from the dropdown menu. You may view multiple countries’ fleets and customize the color of fishing activity on the map by country.  

How do I search for a specific vessel? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

Click on the Vessels tab in the toolbox to the right and enter the vessel identifying information in the search bar.

How can I save or share my workspace? 2017-12-28T14:58:02+00:00

You may share your workspace by clicking on the share arrow on the left side of the map below the “+” and “-” icons. This will bring up a unique url for your workspace, which you can copy and save or share with someone, as well as the option to embed your workspace.

Won’t this tip off the fishing industry to where all the fish are? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

No. Commercial fishing fleets are already using sophisticated technology such as helicopters, tracking beacons, fish-finding sonar, and even fish forecasts based on satellite data to find and catch fish. Global Fishing Watch shows where fishing activity has apparently occurred; it doesn’t predict where fish are likely to be in the future. The 72-hour time lag also limits the use of Global Fishing Watch as a “fish tracking” tool.

Is monitoring AIS signals an invasion of trade secrets privacy? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

No. Monitoring a vessel activity through satellite AIS is already a well-established practice in the shipping, insurance and commodities industries, and AIS data is already publicly available. AIS was designed to be an open, public communications tool. Vessels that use AIS are intentionally making themselves trackable to everyone around them. Global Fishing Watch shows apparent commercial resource extraction that takes place on the open ocean, not on private property. Our fisheries are a common resource, whether on the high seas that belong to everyone or in the sovereign waters of individual nations.

Do “pirate” fishing vessels that engage in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing even use AIS? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

Although not all of them do, we have seen vessels broadcasting AIS that appear to be fishing illegally.

Are all vessels required to use AIS? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

No, but many of the largest vessels that catch a disproportionately large amount of the fish are required to do so by the IMO. In addition, many countries and intergovernmental agencies such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are creating AIS requirements within their waters, so we expect an increase in AIS use in the coming years. For example, as of May 31, 2014, all European Union flagged fishing vessels over 15 meters in length are required to be equipped with AIS, and as of March 1, 2016, all commercial U.S. flagged fishing vessels over 65 feet in length are required to be equipped with AIS.

Can’t vessels just broadcast a false location in their AIS signals? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

We have seen vessel tracks that appear in impossible places such as the Himalayan Mountains or over Antarctica. We can’t say for sure whether the AIS has been tampered with or is faulty, but the errors have followed regular patterns—varying from a vessel’s true location by a constant amount, or flipping a coordinate from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, for example. Once we identify the patterns, we can often correct apparently false locations.

Can’t fishing vessels turn off their AIS? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

Yes – and Global Fishing Watch can help detect when this appears to occur. We can see when a vessel appears to turn off its AIS, and we can share that information publicly. We can also flag instances where ships disappear or appear suddenly, jump 1,000 miles at once, or appear to fish on land. AIS was primarily designed as a safety mechanism to help avoid collisions at sea, so turning off AIS can put a vessel and its crew at risk of being hit by another ship.

I’m a government or data aggregator. Can I add my data to Global Fishing Watch? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

Many countries have their own AIS or VMS data that is not currently part of our feed. Global Fishing Watch seeks to build the most comprehensive public map of fishing effort possible and are happy to discuss ingesting new data sources. Indonesia, one of the largest VMS systems in the world, has been sharing their VMS data for inclusion in Global Fishing Watch and collaborating with us to better understand fishing effort in the region and provide new tools to their fishery management, licensure, and research team. Please contact us at info@globalfishingwatch.org if interested.

Is coverage equal all over the world? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

There are some regions of the world that have better coverage than others. Variation in coverage results from the presence or absence of a satellite flying overhead at any given time, reception from terrestrial receivers in the area, vessel densities (which can cause signal interference), and whether or not vessels are transmitting. Overall, coverage continues to improve with the continual deployment of more satellites and with 2017 having substantially better coverage than 2012 due to satellite increases and changes in AIS usage mandates.

Why are vessel names sometimes garbled or blank? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

Vessel names are taken directly from the AIS message a vessel broadcasts. Transmitters sometimes have errors or are not always properly configured. In some cases, we are able to match vessels to fishing registries and will use the name from there.

Why am I not seeing certain Marine Protected Areas on Global Fishing Watch? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

The MPA layers we show are a subset of MCI’s MPAtlas. We currently do not show all MPAs in our MPA – Restricted Use and MPA – No Take layers as their restrictions vary, and for visualization reasons. However, all MPAs listed in MCI’s MPAtlas are available in our MPAtlas layer. In the Layers tab on our toolbox, select “Add Layers” and look for the MPAtlas layer.

Why is there fishing in an area marked as an MPA? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

In such areas you may see fishing. In no take Marine Protected Areas there should not be fishing, and any apparent fishing in such an area should be subjected to further scrutiny.

Why are there large circles in which there is no apparent fishing? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

The large circles without fishing are almost always EEZs around islands that heavily restrict or prohibit fishing (if you turn on the EEZ Layer in the Global Fishing Watch Map, you will see that they often line up with these blank areas). The circles could also be Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that prohibit fishing (you can turn on the MPA layers to see if that’s the case).

What is the significance of the EEZs? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a zone in the ocean in which the adjacent nation has jurisdiction. These generally include waters extending 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coastline but are also drawn closer in where multiple nation’s jurisdictions would otherwise overlap. Each country has special rights regarding exploration and use of resources within its EEZ. For example, if a country establishes that its fishing resources are being fully exploited by domestic fleets, it can exclude foreign vessels. A country can also allow foreign vessels to fish in its EEZ and can sell them fishing licenses.

What is the difference between MPA – No Take and MPA – Restricted Use? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

MPA – No Take includes protected areas where all fishing is prohibited. MPA – Restricted Use contains areas that allow some fishing but impose restrictions such as catch quotas, seasonal closures, or limits on certain types of fishing gear or fishing sectors (commercial vs. recreational, or industrial vs. small-scale).

Does the algorithm make mistakes? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

The Global Fishing Watch detection algorithm is a best effort to mathematically identify “apparent fishing activity by using machine learning at a global scale. It is based on thousands of “training segments” that humans with expertise in fishing have manually classified. Just like humans, the algorithm will make some mistakes. Over time, this will continue to improve as we feed the algorithms more training data and correct the mistakes that are made. As stated in the “fishing activity” definition, further scrutiny is required before any legal action or proof can be made.

Is the information I’m seeing in the map in real-time? 2017-12-28T14:58:26+00:00

The data you see spans from January 1, 2012 to near real-time. The most recent data shown in the map is from 72 hours prior to the present time.