The beauty of the ocean, the life it contains and the services and resources it provides are part of humanity’s shared heritage and shared future. Global Fishing Watch believes human activity at sea should be common knowledge in order to safeguard the global ocean commons for the common good of all. That’s why our purpose is to create and publicly share knowledge about human activity at sea to enable fair and sustainable use of our ocean.
The ocean, covering 71% of our planet, is vast. More than 60% of it is outside the protection of any individual country. This makes monitoring human activity across the ocean very difficult. Illegal and destructive fishing practices take places without oversight or consequences, largely because authorities have no way to know what is happening.
Global Fishing Watch is using technology to change that and make information transparent. They are tracking commercial fishing boats, collecting data, and making it freely available. This can help policy makers and scientists to know what is happening so that they are better prepared to regulate it.
An amazing example of using technology to protect the ocean!
Despite its importance and the threats it faces, the ocean remains the least observed part of our planet. As a result, there is no global picture of all human activity at sea and we cannot truly understand humanity’s impact on life below water. This lack of visibility allows illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to thrive.
Recent advances in big data and technology are rapidly transforming our ability to generate new insights and make them public and visible. At Global Fishing Watch we believe it’s vital to seize this opportunity.
That’s why our purpose is to create and publicly share knowledge about human activity at sea to enable fair and sustainable use of our ocean.
We create new knowledge by using cutting edge technology to turn big data into actionable information. We share that information publicly, and for free, to accelerate science and drive fairer, smarter policies and practices that reward good behavior and protect biodiversity, fisheries and livelihoods. And we promote international cooperation and transparency around ocean data to enable a new era of ocean governance.
Our major focus is on commercial fishing because it is the most widespread human activity at sea, the most impactful on ocean health and the most crucial for global livelihoods and food security. It’s also an area where technology and transparency can drive real change as fishing has historically been difficult and costly to monitor. As technology advances, we will track other human activities where doing so will make a meaningful contribution to better ocean stewardship.
In 2018, we published the first-ever global assessment of commercial fishing activity in Science. We tracked over 60,000 fishing vessels between 2012 and 2016, and estimated that fishing occurred on more than half of the ocean.
More importantly, the findings and data from this paper launched a large wave of research to better understand fishing in the world’s ocean. The paper has been cited more than 300 times and the data we released with it has been downloaded more than 6,000 times. This open-access data has opened the door for research with important ocean management implications, including papers showing that European marine protected areas may not actually be very protective, that sharks globally are at risk to fishing activity, and that much of high seas fishing may only be profitable due to large subsidies, among many others.
Since 2018, we have updated our models and continued to improve our technology, and we’re excited to release updated data that spans nine years, from 2012 through 2020. With our 2020 data, we can identify how the global fishing industry has been affected by COVID-19.
It’s exciting to draw upon billions of GPS positions to map almost a decade of human activity across the world ocean. Our work, though, is just beginning. Although our data includes most fishing vessels larger than 24 meters and the majority of the world’s high seas fishing activity, it excludes vessels that don’t publicly broadcast their movements, including tens of thousands of industrial vessels and hundreds of thousands of smaller, artisanal vessels. We are now working on techniques to track these vessels, and believe that in the coming years, we will be able to monitor more and more of human activity at sea.