Fresh Caught Mackerel Photo Credit: Robin E. H. Ove
Written by Oceana Protecting the World's Oceans

*Editors Note: This document was provided to World-Eats by It outlines the Global Fishing Watch Initiative being developed by, SkyTruth and Google. The goal is to allow anyone with a computer to monitor a feed on  commercial fishing vessels in an effort to combat and eliminate illegal fishing and labor conditions. 

A Technology Initiative to Illuminate Global Fishing Activity

While some coastal nations do a good job at managing their ocean fisheries, many do not. Governments can avoid accountability for their management failure because ocean fishing occurs “over the horizon,” hidden from popular view. While citizens have a self interest in assuring that ocean fisheries are well managed (since abundant fisheries provide local jobs and food, and sustain coastal communities), they lack basic information to assess whether government is doing its ocean management job. For example, governments can proclaim the creation of “marine protected areas” but then fail to stop commercial fishing vessels from operating within them. Similarly, responsible seafood purchasers find it almost impossible to independently verify claims of where seafood has been caught. And foreign vessels, not legally permitted to fish into a national fishing zone without a license, have learned which coastal countries enforce their ocean sovereignty, and which do not.

Oceana and our two partners, Google and SkyTruth intend to end this opacity.

Global Fishing Watch will make available to anyone with a standard computer and internet connection a free, accessible, and interactive view of the largest commercial fishing vessels across the globe.

Global Fishing Watch Will be a Global Fisheries Game Changer

Global Fishing Watch can be used by anyone interested in understanding the conduct of commercial fishing vessels at sea.

Using two years of satellite data on the activities of 3,125 of the world’s largest fishing vessels, our prototype confirmed the technical feasibility of tracking vast numbers of commercial fishing vessels, along with a simple-to-use mapping interface easily accessible by anyone familiar with Google Earth or other similar web-based services. This includes citizens, government fishery managers, Coast Guards, and other at sea policing agencies, academics, responsible seafood purchasers, retailers, chefs, and seafood certifying agencies along with responsible and honest commercial fishers.

Indeed, because it is novel, we anticipate that its launch will trigger creative applications characteristic of new and “disruptive” internet-based technologies. Many scientists, government agencies, advocates, and others have already expressed interest in using the tool.

Based on this initial feedback, we have identified a number of ways that the tool will be useful and that will build on Oceana’s existing campaigns:

  1. Identifying whether a marine protected area is being enforced:

    Global Fishing Watch can show the degree to which a marine protected area is being enforced. For example, Oceana plans to release a report based on Global Fishing Watch data to document fishing behavior in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), to demonstrate the change in fishing behavior after a ban on commercial fishing came into effect on January 1, 2015.


  1. Tracking suspected illegal fishing vessels:

    Global Fishing Watch can track specific vessels suspected of fishing illegally. For example, one group working on enforcement in the Galapagos Marine Reserve would like to use Global Fishing Watch to monitor fishing vessels that show suspicious fishing behavior near and in the reserve.


  1. Identifying and designating additional marine areas to be protected:

    Global Fishing Watch can show where fishing is currently taking place. Researchers in the UK intend to use the tool to identify a potential High Seas Marine Protected Area.


  1. Holding governments accountable for making and enforcing fishing laws

    : Global Fishing Watch will be able to identify and track fishing activity within countries’ exclusive economic zones.


Potential uses of Global Fishing Watch

  • Ocean Crest Alliance, an NGO in the Bahamas, wants to track a large fleet of vessels operating illegally out of the Dominican Republic, threatening the Bahamas economy and the health of the most productive marine habitat in the Caribbean.

  • Another group is working with the Government of Mozambique Ministry of Fisheries to target vessels believed to be infringing on fishery laws.

    Monitoring and tracking fishing vessels and fishing pressure

    Global Fishing Watch will help scientists and others monitor changes in fishing pressure, both globally and in areas of special vulnerability or biological or commercial interest.


  • A researcher with the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources observes that there has been a decrease both in surveillance and in reported illegal fishing; he intends to use the tool to tell whether illegal fishing has actually decreased, or simply eluded detection.
  • An official from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization expressed interest in using Global Fishing Watch to explore overfishing and illegal and unreported fishing off the coast of Somalia and in the Western Indian Ocean.
  • Many countries in Africa are heavily fished by the deep sea long range fleets of the European Union, Korea and China, often using access agreements which are more beneficial to the government than to the coastal citizens who depend on fishing for livelihoods and food. Global Fishing Watch can identify the origin and flag of vessels fishing off African coasts.

    The system will be complementary to other efforts: Global Fishing Watch will complement other efforts to use technology to shed light on fishing practices, such as efforts by Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF. Oceana’s tool is unique in that it will be available to all, including not only the public, but also governments looking to do enforcement. Ours will thus be useful, among other situations, when the public needs to prod government to pay more attention to illegal fishing or other policy problems. Ours will answer questions in addition to those relating to illegal fishing. Other systems, while complementary to this, will neither provide the global scale, nor the public access that Global Fishing Watch will provide., a non-profit organization, is actively seeking financial partners to invest in the development of Global Fishing Watch. Please contact them directly if you would like more information.