Global Fishing Watch aims to bring improved compliance, through increased transparency, to the global fishing fleet. We process data transmitted by fishing vessels to identify when they are fishing – that is, when and where fishing activity occurs, not just where fishing vessels are. Our purpose is not to identify illegal fishing activity. Fishing laws can be very complicated and without access to national data it can be nearly impossible to tell when a vessel is fishing illegally. Although our purpose is to track fishing activity, our analysts have identified illegal activity on several occasions and our data have been used to verify suspected illicit activity. For example, soon after our launch, Global Fishing Watch was used to reach a $2 million settlement for Kiribati from a vessel that fished illegally in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a no-take marine reserve.
In addition, we have created algorithms to identify patterns of activity related to fishing. These patterns allow us to confirm compliant behaviour or identify potentially illicit activity. For example, we can identify when transshipment occurs. Transshipment is poorly monitored, under increased scrutiny for being an easy way for illegal fish to be transported to port and is associated with other illicit activity, such as bonded labour and trade in endangered species. Unless we are working alongside a flag state or regional fisheries management organization (RFMO), our analysts do not tend to deal with when and where a transshipment is permitted – instead, they specialize in recognizing when an event has occurred based on vessel behavior. For example, our data suggest that transshipment was involved in a case that led to a $5.9 million fine and jail time for vessel operators of a refrigerated cargo vessel caught carrying illegal sharks and shark fins outside of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.