Year One Opened a New Era of Transparency in Commercial Fishing – What’s Next?

When Global Fishing Watch launched last year, we opened a new era of transparency in commercial fishing. For the first time, an interactive platform for tracking the location and behavior of the largest commercial fishing vessels – and the data that drives it – was made available for free to organizations and individuals to accelerate research and innovation that supports sustainable ocean fisheries. Ocean sustainability is vital if we hope to preserve the world’s supply of wild-caught fish for our growing global population.

As we celebrate the organization’s first year, it’s worth looking back on some of our accomplishments. A fundamental aspect of transparency means making our platform available to anyone so that they might put it to good use. Global Fishing Watch’s “open source” platform is helping focus efforts to  mitigate seabird bycatch, is augmenting scientists’ research  into the impacts of climate change on fisheries, and is being used to teach university students about fisheries dynamics. We have a backlog of such stories that we plan to share with you in the coming year.

In February, just five months after our launch, Global Fishing Watch published The Global View of Transshipment: Preliminary Findings, a first-time look at transshipment behavior that enables the identification of vessels engaged in likely transshipment and reveals the global extent of the practice. At the same time, Global Fishing Watch partner Oceana published a complementary report that exposes regional patterns  of transshipment and its potential for facilitating illegal behaviors, including illegal fishing and human rights abuses.

Then in June at the UN Oceans Conference, Indonesia’s Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti announced that her government had partnered with Global Fishing Watch to publish Indonesia’s vessel monitoring system (VMS) data. This unprecedented step, made at the UN Oceans Conference in June, has changed the global conversation around transparency and reflects a shift in priorities among international leaders to emphasize  ocean sustainability and local economics. The addition of VMS data to the Global Fishing Watch platform significantly enhances the fishing activity that can now be monitored. The platform was originally built using data from  automated identification systems (AIS), which is required for vessels at sea with a capacity exceeding 100 gross tons. VMS requirements vary from nation to nation, but in Indonesia, it is required on ships over 30 tons. As the image below indicates, Indonesia’s VMS data allows us to see many more fishing vessels.

Minister Susi, in announcing Indonesia’s partnership with Global Fishing Watch, called on all other nations to follow her country’s lead. And, indeed, hers was not the only nation to place local fisheries ahead of industry concerns. At the same UN conference, and after working with Global Fishing Watch partner, Oceana, Peru’s Vice Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Hector Soldí, committed to sharing his country’s VMS data through Global Fishing Watch. Vice Minister Soldí has joined Minister Susi in calling for other nations to do the same. (Read the Vice Minister’s plea for “Clear Waters, Clear Hearts” at The Hill.

As we look ahead to our second year, Global Fishing Watch expects to increase our VMS partnerships beyond Indonesia and Peru. Adding national VMS data country-by-country is a central part of our mission to sustain the ocean’s fisheries by making the activity of all commercial fishing vessels more transparent to the world. We welcome support from our partners and others who share the same objectives and who might be able to assist in this campaign.

We’ll also be focused on supporting the seafood supply chain as it seeks to provide greater traceability on the catch-to-port end of the chain. Global Fishing Watch shares the vision with retailers of enabling grocery customers to scan a can of tuna with their smartphones to see precisely where in the ocean the fish that provided that meat was caught. Our role is a small but vital component of that vision.

On the research front, we expect to see several papers published this year by Global Fish Watch and our research partners. We also anticipate the launch of a new tool created by one of our partners, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the Australian government’s primary research unit. The tool, developed using the Global Fishing Watch platform, is intended to be used by enforcement agencies to identify and locate suspicious vessels. It was announced by CSIRO earlier this summer.

We have a number of other initiatives in development, including a new research program and map layer that we’ll roll out over the next year. Look for those announcements in the coming months.

We start our second year with our first full-time CEO, Tony Long. Tony joined Global Fishing Watch this month and brings a great deal of related experience and a lot of ideas that build on our mission of sustainability through transparency. All of us on the team are looking forward to the course Tony is charting for us.

This is also a good time to give kudos to Paul Woods, who served as acting CEO until Tony came on board this month. Paul is the one who put the balls in the air for the rest of us to juggle this past year. He’s now happily stepped aside and is giving full attention to the development of future products and services.

It is also worth noting that everything we do at Global Fishing Watch is a collaborative effort with a range of different partners. We share our accomplishments with them, and look forward to extending those relationships and building new ones as we move forward toward new achievements in Year Two and beyond.