The refrigerated cargo vessel (reefer) Leelawadee with two unidentified likely fishing vessels tied alongside. Captured by DigitalGlobe on November 30, 2016. (DigitalGlobe)

Transshipment: A Global Footprint Never Seen Before

It’s been just over five months since Global Fishing Watch launched publicly, and this week, we hope to make another splash by not just mapping global fishing activity, but by providing an unprecedented view of very specific activity by a very specific class of vessels around the world.

Today, at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Indonesia, Brian Sullivan, Google’s lead for Global Fishing Watch, is presenting the results of our new analysis that produced the first-ever global footprint of transshipment. We are releasing our data and analysis of these transshipments today in a free report titled The Global View of Transshipment: Preliminary Findings. Read more

The tracks identified on this Global Fishing Watch Map reveal the activity of fishing vessels registered to Belize a "Flag of Convenience" country. (The activity spans four years, from February 2013 to February 2017.)

Flag of Convenience or Cloak of Malfeasance?

In the U.S., you can’t slap a license plate on your car from a state you don’t live in. Not so for ships on the ocean. Of course, ships don’t have license plates; they have flags, but it’s not uncommon for a fishing vessel to fly a flag from a country that has no actual ties to the boat, the owner, or the captain behind the wheel.

Many countries have what’s called an open registry, which means they allow foreign vessels to register and fly their flags, so long as the vessel owner pays the fee and meets the registration requirements.

There’s money to be made in selling registrations, which is why some countries sell them to fishing vessels that have nothing to do with their own fishing interests. In fact, a country doesn’t even need to have fishing interests to register an ocean-going fishing vessel. Landlocked Mongolia is a perfect example of that.

The disconnect between some of these countries and the activities of the vessels they register is inherently problematic. With no incentive to properly regulate, many countries with open registries have very weak regulations and slim to no monitoring. These are called Flag of Convenience (FoC) nations. The International Transport Union lists 35 FoC countries.

Many ship owners intentionally register under an FoC to avoid more restrictive rules and higher expenses of registering in their own countries. And, intentional or not, they also obscure their true origins. In some cases, vessels bounce around from one FoC to another, further clouding traceability.

It’s no surprise, then, that a high proportion of vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing fly a flag of convenience. Our data scientists recently found a strong correlation between FoC vessels and transshipment, a practice that can facilitate illegal activity. In our new report “The Global View of Transshipment: Preliminary Findings,” data scientists from SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch found that 48 percent of the refrigerated cargo vessels–large ships that collect catch from multiple fishing vessels and have been associated with a high percentage of IUU fishing–are registered under FoCs.

The image of the Global Fishing Watch Map above shows the activity of fishing vessels registered to Belize, an FoC country, from February 2013 to February 2017. It’s interesting to note that, during that time, five distinct patterns emerge, and none of them appear anywhere near Belize. The tracks in the image are color-coded to differentiate the patterns.

One pattern reveals heavy fishing off the coast of West Africa and extending into the equatorial Atlantic. Another shows repeated trips from Zambia into the south Atlantic, while one shows fishing in the Indian Ocean and around Madagascar. There is a small pattern of a few vessels transiting from Norway to West Africa, and finally, one group of vessels fishes off Argentina and travels back and forth to East Asia.

Check out these vessels yourself on the Global Fishing Watch Map. (You must be registered and logged in.)

You can also read about the connection between G

An overwhelming demand for squid drives a huge commercial fishing effort. Here squid hang to dry before being sent to market. Photo: David Monniaux / creative commons

Mystery Moves: What’s Up in the Pacific?

Over the past couple of months, SkyTruth analyst Bjorn Bergman has been watching some interesting activity by the Chinese fishing fleet in the Pacific. A large Chinese flagged squid-fishing fleet had been fishing at the boundary of Peru’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) throughout the summer and fall of 2016. Then, near the middle of December, many of them suddenly began migrating some 3,000 miles to the northwest. Read more

Tracks of fishing vessels operating around Palmyra Atoll

A New View of Marine Protected Areas

In 2016, 33 countries agreed to establish a global network of scientifically supported Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that will increase the amount of ocean area protected from the current 2 percent to 10 percent by the year 2020. MPAs either restrict human activity such as fishing, or they prohibit it all together. But the question is: do they work? Read more

Fishing vessel incursions into Motu Maha Marine Reserve in 2016.

What’s Happening inside Motu Maha Marine Reserve?

There were a whole lot of fishing vessels inside the Motu Maha no-take marine reserve last year, and every one of them had a reason to be there. As part of our series on deciphering suspicious behavior, we asked Dave Stevens, Senior Analyst for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, to help us understand why nine fishing vessels made repeated trips into the 1,868 square mile marine reserve around the Auckland Islands—a World Heritage site 285 miles from the South Island of New Zealand. Read more

Glory Pacific us CG imageCropped

Fishing in a Marine Park? Look Again.

After our recent post Deciphering Suspicious Behavior: It’s not always what it seems, we thought it would be insightful to post a few examples of vessel behavior that looked suspect, but turned out to be easily explained on closer inspection.

Often, a look at the other vessels in the area can help explain what’s going on.

In this case, the fishing vessel Glory Pacific No. 1 was seen moving back and forth over a large swath of ocean within the boundaries of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a 150,000 square mile marine park where all fishing is prohibited. Read more

Fishing boat dressed for Christmas in the Isle of Man. Theburnhams/Wikicommons

Fishing Fleet Goes Home for the Holidays

‘Tis the season, and even fishers want to be home for the holidays. The flag state filter in Global Fishing Watch allows us to select vessels flagged to a specific country or countries. In the spirit of the season, we decided to use it to see if  a cultural tradition that has nothing to do with fishing can be revealed through fishing vessel behavior. Watch the video to see what we mean, then check it out for yourself by following the links below to the same work space on the Global Fishing Watch map.

Map of the Azores with Spanish fleet activity seen through AIS data.

The same map with individual vessel tracks highlighted 


Reefer Fu Yuan Yu 88 is shown in port in Conakry, Guinea on June 30, 2016, even though the vessel was broadcasting an AIS location in the Pacific about 5000 nautical miles to the west. The vessel is shown taking catch from the Fu Yuan Yu 372 (photo: vovashap/

Witness to a Crime?

Unusual fleet behavior off West Africa spurs our analyst to investigate

Just because something appears suspicious, doesn’t mean laws are being broken. Jumping too quickly to conclusions could embroil a legally operating fishing fleet in unwarranted investigations or accusations. Equally damaging would be to rush in on a crime without solid evidence and lose the chance to shut down a bad actor. Global Fishing Watch is a powerful tool to be wielded with caution.

That’s why we’re taking our time evaluating a series of intriguing vessel tracks, Read more

Yushin Maru track in Hawaiian EEZ

Where are the Whalers?

Last week, a visitor to our site asked if Global Fishing Watch can be used to track whaling ships.

The short answer is yes, sometimes. At the moment, our machine learning algorithms are being designed to classify three major types of fishing activity—trawling, longlining and purse seining—but some whaling vessels report themselves as “fishing vessels,” and thus appear on our map. Here’s an example of one we recently found.  Below is a screen shot of the map showing the US Exclusive Economic Zone around Hawaii and Midway Island (EEZ delineated in blue).  We’ve circled a string of points that look like a vessel track headed straight toward, or away from, the border of the marine protected area (delineated in red). Read more

Vessel heading to port at Limassol, Cyprus (Wikicommons)

Tweeting End of Season

Check out this Tweet by Rustu Yucel who used the Global Fishing Watch map to watch the close of the fishing season in Cypress this summer! Read more