Download data

Download data 2019-05-30T22:15:57+00:00

Program overview

Global Fishing Watch is making the data that powers our public platform openly available for research projects and other non-commercial use through our Research Accelerator Program (RAP). Our goal in sharing this data is to enable others to undertake research that will accelerate advances in fisheries management and ocean sustainability.

Who is eligible?

This program is open to anyone who wants to use Global Fishing Watch data for a research project or other non-commercial purpose. You need to be a registered user of Global Fishing Watch in order to download the data.

What data products are available?

  • Gridded fishing activity data
  • Vessel identity and classification lists
  • Encounters between refrigerated cargo vessels and fishing vessels
  • Future data products: ports, AIS On/Off events, gridded VMS

What is required for me to access and use the data?

  • Register (free, self service)
  • Agree to the terms of service
  • Participate in follow-up surveys
  • Acknowledge Global Fishing Watch in anything you publish (see terms for proper citation)

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“AIS” stands for the Automatic Identification System. It is a maritime navigation safety communications system standardized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that provides vessel information, including the vessel’s identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and other safety-related information automatically to appropriately equipped shore stations, other ships and aircraft; automatically receives such information from similarly fitted ships; monitors and tracks ships; and exchanges data with shore-based facilities.
The unique identification of a vessel’s radio transmissions assigned to it by its national licensing authority.
The type of AIS transponder a vessel uses – Class A transponders are the most expensive and transmit at 12.5 watts. There are two types of Class B transponders – Class B/SO, which transmits at 5 watts (2 watts @ low power) and Class B/CS receiver, which transmits at 2 watts.
Global Fishing Watch uses data about a vessel’s identity, type, location, speed, direction and more that is broadcast using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and collected via satellites and terrestrial receivers. AIS was developed for safety/collision-avoidance. Global Fishing Watch analyzes AIS data collected from vessels that our research has identified as known or possible commercial fishing vessels, and applies a fishing detection algorithm to determine “apparent fishing activity” based on changes in vessel speed and direction. The algorithm classifies each AIS broadcast data point for these vessels as either apparently fishing or not fishing and shows the former on the Global Fishing Watch fishing activity heat map. AIS data as broadcast may vary in completeness, accuracy and quality. Also, data collection by satellite or terrestrial receivers may introduce errors through missing or inaccurate data. Global Fishing Watch’s fishing detection algorithm is a best effort mathematically to identify “apparent fishing activity.” As a result, it is possible that some fishing activity is not identified as such by Global Fishing Watch; conversely, Global Fishing Watch may show apparent fishing activity where fishing is not actually taking place. For these reasons, Global Fishing Watch qualifies designations of vessel fishing activity, including synonyms of the term “fishing activity,” such as “fishing” or “fishing effort,” as “apparent” rather than certain. Any/all Global Fishing Watch information about “apparent fishing activity” should be considered an estimate and must be relied upon solely at your own risk. Global Fishing Watch is taking steps to make sure fishing activity designations are as accurate as possible. Global Fishing Watch fishing detection algorithms are developed and tested using actual fishing event data collected by observers, combined with expert analysis of vessel movement data resulting in the manual classification of thousands of known fishing events. Global Fishing Watch also collaborates extensively with academic researchers through our research program to share fishing activity classification data and automated classification techniques.
The state a vessel is registered or licensed under.
The IMO number is a unique vessel identification number assigned by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to sea-going ships under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Fishing vessels of 300 gross tonnage or more engaged in international voyages are required to broadcast AIS by the the IMO.
MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity. It is a unique nine-digit number assigned to every Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmission made by a vessel.
A vessel’s name. Vessel names can be changed without notice, and are often used by multiple vessels so the name alone is not a robust form of identity.

Full Data Access License

For some projects, you may need access to detailed position data for individual vessels that have not been aggregated by gear type or flag state. The full data set, including every AIS position of fishing-related vessels, can be licensed for use in a single research project for a one-time fee. For more information, contact

One of our goals is to be as transparent as possible and release as much of our data and related analyses as we can, including those that are still “in development.” We’ve created a data portal geared toward researchers, software engineers, data scientists, or anyone who is interested in having access “under the hood” of Global Fishing Watch.

Some of the datasets you can access through the portal include:

  • Vessel Identity
  • Fishing Activity
  • Transshipment
  • Anonymized AIS Data

Registered users of RAP can access all of our data products on our Data Portal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will fishing vessels find ways to avoid detection via AIS now that it’s possible to track them so accurately? 2018-06-22T13:10:02+00:00

Vessels can falsify their locations. 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. Once we identify the patterns, we can often correct apparently false locations. This affects less than half a percent of the vessels in our database.

Vessels can turn off their AIS 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. For European fleets, for which we have good data, we believe that they have their AIS broadcasting at least 80 percent of the time.

How does Global FIshing Watch get AIS data? 2018-06-22T13:09:13+00:00

Global Fishing Watch purchases AIS data transmitted by vessels from ORBCOMM and Spire.

Is it right to use AIS for tracking and analysing fishing vessel activity, given it was not intended for this purpose? 2018-06-22T12:49:29+00:00

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. Our fisheries are a common resource, whether on the high seas that belong to everyone or in the sovereign waters of individual nations.

What vessels are required to use AIS? What are global regulations and requirements for vessels to carry AIS? 2018-06-22T12:50:59+00:00

IMO requires AIS use by all vessels >500GT, for any vessel >300GT that is on an “international voyage” and for all passenger vessels. IMO Revised Guidelines for the Onboard Operation Use of Shipborne AIS – A.1106(29) 22 AIS should always be in operation when ships are underway or at anchor. If the master believes that the continual operation of AIS might compromise the safety or security of his/her ship or where security incidents are imminent, the AIS may be switched off. Unless it would further compromise the safety or security, if the ship is operating in a mandatory ship reporting system, the master should report this action and the reason for doing so to the competent authority.

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.

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.