The FAO estimates that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for 11–26 million tonnes of fish each year, worth US$10–23 billion, contributing to overfishing and often associated with human trafficking and other human rights abuses. IUU fishing is enabled by a lack of understanding of activity that occurs at sea; when activity occurs over the horizon and out of sight, it is often difficult to monitor. Transparency will contribute to better maritime governance by driving self-correcting behavior and enabling more efficient monitoring of fleets and enhanced scientific research.
When a country decides to “go transparent” on the Global Fishing Watch (GFW) platform by going public with its VMS, it is a conscious decision to support better ocean governance. This not only supports ocean conservation, but can also protect local economies by helping to reveal persistent illegal behavior of industrial fishing vessels and reward compliant vessels with easier access to port to land their catch. It is a cost-effective method of monitoring and control. In this way, it can help to prevent human rights abuses such as forced labor on fishing boats. There is a growing social movement that wants clear evidence of the good provenance of the catch; and early adopters of transparency principles will be in the strongest position as this becomes the norm.
Transparent data enables improved scientific research, which paves the way for informed decision making, particularly improved ocean governance. It enables scientists to conduct conservation and compliance-applicable research through open access data. As more data becomes transparent, global fishing activity can be better understood; and in turn, better science-based policy can be developed.