Data collected from fishing vessels at sea is one of the three core components of the Global Fishing Watch transparency platform. The data provides information on vessel identity, location, speed, heading, and activity. Most of this data is broadcast from ships to satellites which send it to earth stations for processing; some data is collected through ground receivers.
Initially designed using publicly broadcast Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, our platform is capable of ingesting data from a variety of sources and in a variety of forms. In 2017, we began incorporating data from additional sources, which provides us a more comprehensive view of the global fleet. With each new source of data, we increase the level of transparency in commercial fishing and create opportunities to improve the sustainability of ocean fisheries.
Current Data Being Used
Automatic Identification System (AIS)
AIS broadcasts unencrypted radio signals that are publicly broadcast as a safety feature to help vessels avoid collision and to enable authorities to monitor vessel traffic. AIS is required on fishing vessels exceeding 300 Gross tonnes. Each broadcasted AIS message includes vessel identity, gear type, speed, heading, and location. Signals may be broadcast as often as every few seconds. AIS is generally reliable, but signals can drop out due to interference in crowded waters and when vessels are far from shore and satellites are not overhead. Global Fishing Watch receives more than 40 million AIS signals a day.
Global Fishing Watch obtains its AIS data through partnerships with two satellite data companies, Orbcomm and Spire. The companies use two different satellite systems, resulting in complementary datasets that help to fill gaps in the AIS signals of some vessels.
Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)
Owned and operated by individual governments, VMS was specifically created to monitor national fishing fleets and foreign vessels fishing within their waters. The signals broadcast by ships are encrypted, which means only the government and those they share it with can access the data. Governments using VMS generally require it on vessels smaller than 300 gross tonnes, which means more of the fishing fleet is visible by VMS. Signals are less frequent than AIS, but more consistent as they operate on a designated band and transmission is guaranteed. The addition of Indonesia’s VMS data added more than 5,000 fishing vessels to the Global Fishing Watch database.
Global Fishing Watch receives VMS data from the government of Indonesia through a partnership that represents the first public sharing of a government’s VMS data. We have also begun processing VMS data from the government of Peru for incorporation into our public platform, and are pursuing publishing agreements with other national governments.
Data Being Evaluated for Future Integration
There are a fairly wide range of data sources that provide information on vessels at sea. Each new dataset and new type of data has to be rigorously evaluated to determine how it can best be integrated into our transparency platform.
Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)
Operated by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the VIIRS instrument is a scanning radiometer aboard the Suomi-NPP satellite that collects visible and infrared imagery and radiometric measurements. Used initially for weather observations, VIIRS can detect the bright lights of vessels at night. Many of the fishing vessels detected through VIIRS do not broadcast AIS or VMS, meaning either they are too small to be required to carry those devices or they have their devices turned off. Although VIIRS data is only available at night, it could potentially add thousands of new vessels to the Global Fishing Watch database.
Through a partnership with NOAA, Global Fishing Watch is currently working to understand the VIIRS data for future incorporation into our database, and NOAA is using Global Fishing Watch data to help calibrate VIIRS vessel detection algorithms to identify the types of vessels and gear being used during night time fishing.