Better Ocean Governance Requires Cross-Sector Collaboration

Governments and civil society must work together to harness the full power of transparency and technology, says Luke Bantock

Enhancing ocean governance starts with understanding what goes on at sea and empowering people everywhere to act on that knowledge.

At Global Fishing Watch, we are driven by our mission to make the invisible visibleharnessing advanced technology to generate data-driven insights that propel global efforts to protect biodiversity, fisheries and livelihoods. It is a bold vision that has attracted the attention and support of the international community, from leading foundations and multilateral institutions to individual governments. And it is a vision that aspires to empower millions of people to secure a better future for the ocean we all share. 

In 2023,  fisheries policy expert Luke Bantock was motivated by that vision and joined the Global Fishing Watch international policy team on secondment from the U.K. Department for  Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to support the delivery of our work. In this role, a first-of-its-kind capacity enhancement for our organization, Luke is using his expertise to help improve the quality and transparency of international vessel tracking and support the advancement of core policies in international fora.

I sat down with Luke earlier this month following his participation at the 9th Our Ocean Conference held in Athens, Greece, to learn more about his efforts at Global Fishing Watch to drive impact for a better ocean future for all.

Q: It’s no secret that our ocean is under threat. A third of the world’s major commercial fish stocks have been exploited beyond safe limits, while lawless and destructive fishing are damaging ecosystems and hurting coastal communities that rely on a healthy ocean for their livelihoods and well-being. In this pressing context, what are the biggest challenges in managing fisheries when considering current international policy frameworks?

A: There are already a handful of key international policy frameworks in place that set us on the right course, from the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Agreement on Port State Measures— which aims to keep illegally caught fish from making it to market—and management measures within regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the overall framework for the use of the ocean.  

We’re also seeing crucial new agreements being finalized and nearing entry into force, such as the High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the World Trade Organization’s Fisheries Subsidies Agreement to curb harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, or the Cape Town Agreement that sets international requirements for vessel construction and safety, facilitating safer working environments for fishers and providing further opportunities for compliance checks to ensure lawful operations regarding vessel and crew. So the global picture isn’t as bleak today as it once was. 

But the central challenge to everything we’re seeing in the international policy space is achieving the right level of implementation from governments. If all States implemented the agreed rules and frameworks, it’d go a long way toward better managing the ocean. And that’s not a simple endeavor because the challenge of implementation is substantial and costly. 

Q: How will a transparency-based approach help address this challenge, particularly in countries most affected by illegal fishing?

A: Transparency means many things to many people, which can indeed cause confusion on top of an already complex topic like international fisheries. For Global Fishing Watch, transparency is about making information—including ocean and vessel data, and related policies and decision-making processes—available and accessible to everyone it affects. 

When it comes to something like vessel tracking, we actually see the absence of transparency causing significant problems for a number of stakeholders. Coastal States don’t always know what’s taking place within their waters, port officials can’t make good decisions about which fishing vessels to inspect if they don’t know where they’ve been, and importers and consumers can’t tell if the fish they’re purchasing has been caught legitimately. 

Now, if all the data were made available to those who need it, a whole host of opportunities are suddenly unlocked, making monitoring, control and surveillance operations much more efficient. It would also improve trust and collaboration between States and identify new benefits for industry. In Norway, for example, we can see that after vessel tracking system data was published, companies using these data to provide services to the fishing industry were able to improve their fishing effectiveness. At the same time, in Panama we’ve seen the publishing of tracking data help prevent bad actors slip through possible enforcement gaps—its registered fleet is there on the Global Fishing Watch map for everyone to see. 

And that’s exactly where Global Fishing Watch’s approach and focus on transparency can deliver results. Through its government engagement efforts pushing for improved transparency, coupled with its technology and data expertise, Global Fishing Watch offers governments a scalable, affordable solution to implementation gaps.  

Q: You recently served as a conference delegate on behalf of Global Fishing Watch at the 9th Our Oceans Conference in Athens, Greece. What was it like attending an international forum on behalf of civil society?

A: When attending an international forum like the Our Ocean Conference, whether as a member of civil society or as a country delegate, your end goal remains the same—enabling positive change through improved ocean governance. And, in fact, this year, as a representative of Global Fishing Watch, I was thrilled to lead the coordination of a co-hosted side event, “Technology for Good,” which brought national and multilateral stakeholders together to talk about how technology and open data are making a positive change in ocean governance. We used the opportunity to make a number of exciting announcements, including our new partnership with the Greek government, which will now use Global Fishing Watch technology to better manage its marine protected areas.  

While the conference was a success, we must all intensify our efforts to tackle the ocean challenges we’re facing. We need all stakeholders, from States and civil society to industry actors to join together and continue this work. And that’s what I look forward to at the next Our Ocean Conference in Korea in 2025.

Q: What has been the biggest takeaway from your experience working with Global Fishing Watch so far?

A: The great value of working with Global Fishing Watch is that one comes away with a palpable sense of delivering positive change on ocean government issues. I view my specific policy role at Global Fishing Watch as one in which I am empowered to bring States and civil society closer together to acquire a better understanding of each other’s priorities. Only in this way can we get better alignment of action and achieve our mutually desired outcomes. We all need to be pulling in the same direction to overcome the challenges we currently face.

At the same time, I am also hopeful that with my background, I can bring a new perspective and new understanding of how governments work to develop policy, what constraints they face, and how opportunities are best identified and pitched. There’s often a disconnect between civil society and government in this regard and hopefully I can help address this.

With that said, with its cutting-edge technology and advanced analytics, Global Fishing Watch is absolutely central to the work governments must undertake to make large-scale change a reality. There’s been a growing interest in what the organization is doing, and governments are eager to collaborate. I see real value in fostering partnership opportunities because it’s only by working together that we can successfully achieve our ocean governance goals. .

Krizia Matthews is an officer on Global Fishing Watch’s international policy team.

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