Global Fishing Watch Beta Release 2.0 Media Kit

Images represent new features on the Global Fishing Watch platform, web-based interactive map.

For more information, contact:
Kimbra Cutlip



BELOW: This image shows the new map interface. Each lighted point on the map reveals a fishing vessel actively engaged in fishing over a sixth month period From November 1, 2016 through April 2017.


The image below shows fishing activity for specific flag-state fleets over a sixth month period From November 1, 2016 through April 2017. Light green shows all Chinese commercial fishing vessels and blue shows all Spanish commercial fishing vessels.


The still image and animated Gif below and the show a user-added custom layer of the Sargasso Sea boundary over the Global Fishing Watch heat map. Each lighted point on the map reveals a fishing vessel actively engaged in fishing over a sixth month period From November 1, 2016 through April 2017.

User Added Custom Layer jpg

This image shows the area defined as the Sargasso Sea over the Global Fishing Watch heat map.

User Added Custom Layer animated Gif

AIS for Safety and Tracking: A Brief History

The maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a radio communications system by which vessels continuously broadcast their identity and position over public airwaves using unencrypted VHS radio signals. When it was developed almost 20 years ago, its primary purpose was to increase safety at sea: ships needed a better way to “see” each other and avoid collisions. But authorities also needed a better way to identify vessels and monitor traffic in their waters.

Today, the use of AIS for identifying and tracking vessels around the globe is becoming increasingly more valuable amid growing concerns over international port security and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

In the United States, the history of AIS begins on March 24, 1989, with the oil tanker Exxon Valdez running aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Eleven million gallons of crude oil gushed into the water from the crippled vessel’s slashed hull. It was, at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. In response, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA-90), part of which called for the Coast Guard to develop a vessel tracking system for tankers going into Alaska.

The intent, according U.S. Coast Guard Program Analyst Jorge Arroyo, was to improve “situational awareness” for navigators and provide tracking capabilities for shore based Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)—akin to Air Traffic Control. Until then, navigators and shore stations had been dependent on visual navigation, analog radar and voice communications to mitgate collisions. The new system had to be autonomous, continuous and digital—something that could automatically communicate and portray a ship’s location to other ships and to shore-based Vessel Traffic Services without the risk of human error.

The Coast Guard decided on a system that used VHF radio waves. At the same time, tracking systems were being developed and tested around the world. “The British were testing a VHS-based tracking system for ships going in and out of the Dover Strait,” Arroyo says. “The Panama Canal Commission was testing a UHF system, and Swedes were developing another protocol.”

By the mid-90s, the international community realized that it made sense to work together, and a movement began at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to adopt a single system that could be used worldwide. They decided on the VHS-based AIS system in use today.

Its three primary purposes of were:

1] Collision avoidance

2] Vessel Traffic Service

3] Coastal Surveillance

By 1998, the U.S. Coast Guard had embarked on a plan to modernize their entire vessel tracking service network which relied on voice radio communications and radar. New Orleans was designated as the first port to adopt a primarily AIS-based system. On September 11, 2001, attacks by foreign terrorists on U.S. soil ramped up the efforts, and AIS became an important tool in the Department of Homeland Security defense kit.

Meanwhile, the IMO mandated participating countries to require AIS on certain vessels by 2002 as part of an update to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention. All tankers and passenger vessels equal to or greater than 150 gross tons would be required to carry AIS as well as all other ships of 300 gross tonnage or greater on international voyages and 500 gross tonnage or greater on domestic voyages.

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Control personnel guide and direct vessels using a bank of monitors including feeds from AIS, VMS, and video cameras. [Photo courtesy: Jorge Arroyo, U.S. Coast Guard]

Different countries have since adopted additional rules. The U.S. now requires commercial vessels of 65 feet or longer to carry AIS within their waters. American flagged vessels of 65 feet or longer must also carry AIS when voyaging in international waters. (Other vessels are also required to carry AIS in U.S. waters, e.g., towing vessels 26 feet or longer and using 600 horsepower or more and vessels certified to carry 150 passengers or more).

Fishing Vessel Exemption

When the regulations were first drawn up in 2003, vocal pushback from industry led the Coast Guard to exempt fishing vessels and passenger vessels with fewer than 150 passengers from the 65-foot threshold. But the exemption was temporary. Last March (2016), the full AIS regulations went into effect, so now AIS is required on all commercial vessels in U.S. waters, including fishing vessels and passenger vessels 65 feet or longer.

The European Union imposed even stricter regulations in 2009, requiring fishing vessels 15 meters (49 feet) or longer to carry AIS. They also explicitly stated that “member States may use AIS data for monitoring and control purposes.” The European Maritime Safety Agency fisheries booklet acknowledges that AIS is beneficial for “marine environment protection,” an increasingly important benefit of a monitoring system broadcast over public airwaves—the feature at the core of Global Fishing Watch operations.

Estimates by researchers in the UK and Canada indicate that as much as 31 percent of the seafood flowing through the global market is illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU), and a study published in Nature in 2016 found that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has consistently underestimated the amount of fish being taken from the sea by at least 50 percent since 1950. Those are ominous figures in light of studies showing that between 7 and 58 percent of the world’s fish stocks have collapsed or are over exploited and 85 percent are, at a minimum, fished to capacity. If that large spread sounds vague, it’s because there just isn’t enough information about exactly how much fishing is going on.

That’s why it’s crucial to increase our understanding of when and where ocean animals are being harvested. AIS has the power to help us do that. For nearly two decades the Automatic Identification System has surely prevented many collisions and saved countless lives. Using it to track and monitor fishing vessels in every ocean will also allow more accurate measurements of global fish catch and increase transparency and traceability in the fishing industry. Important steps toward ending overfishing and IUU.

A more detailed presentation on the history of AIS can be found here.

An overview of AIS from the US Coast Guard is available here.


The First-Ever Global View of Transshipment in Commercial Fishing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2017

Kimbra Cutlip, +1.443.871.1632
David Kroodsma,, +1.415.656.7540
Mara Harris,

Hidden No More: The First-Ever Global View of Transshipment in the Commercial Fishing Industry

Transshipment, the transfer of goods from one boat to another, is a major pathway for illegally caught and unreported fish to enter the global seafood market. It has also been associated with drug smuggling and slave labor. Illegal in many cases, transshipment has been largely invisible and nearly impossible to manage, because it often occurs far from shore and out of sight. Until now.

Today, with the release of our report, The Global View of Transshipment: Preliminary Findings, we present the first-ever global footprint of transshipment in the fishing industry. The report explains how data scientists from SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch (a partnership of Oceana, SkyTruth and Google) analyzed Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships at sea to developed a tool to identify and track 90 percent of the world’s large refrigerated cargo vessels, ships that collect catch from multiple fishing boats at sea and carry it to port.

According to the analysis, from 2012 through 2016, refrigerated cargo vessels, known as “reefers,” participated in more than 5,000 likely transshipments (instances in which they rendezvoused with an AIS-broadcasting fishing vessel and drifted long enough to receive a catch). In addition, the data revealed more than 86,000 potential transshipments in which reefers exhibited transshipment-like behavior, but there were no corresponding AIS signals from fishing vessels. Brian Sullivan, Google’s lead for Global Fishing Watch, will present the findings at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Indonesia today. The report, along with the underlying data and our list of likely and suspected transshipments, will be freely available on our website,

The global scale of transshipment and its ability to facilitate suspicious activity, such as illegal fishing and human rights abuses, is exposed in a complementary report being issued today by our partners at Oceana. The opportunity for mixing legal and illegal catch during the collection of fish from multiple fishing boats provides an easy route for illegal players to get their product to market. This obscures the seafood supply chain from hook to port and hobbles efforts at sustainability because it prevents an accurate measurement of the amount of marine life being taken from the sea.

Among the many findings, Global Fishing Watch data documents that transshipment in offshore coastal waters is more common in regions with a high proportion of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing than in regions where management is strong such as in North America and Europe. The data also revealed clusters of transshipment along the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of some countries, and inside those zones of nations rated strongly for corruption and having limited monitoring capabilities. “These correlations do not provide any proof of specific illegal behavior,” says Global Fishing Watch Research Program Director, David Kroodsma, and lead author on the report, “but they raise important questions and can lead to more informed international efforts by fisheries management organizations to prevent or better regulate transshipment.”

According to Oceana’s report, three of the top eight countries visited by reefers have not yet ratified an international treaty meant to eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and therefore may have weaker regulations that would make it easier for illegally caught fish to enter the global marketplace. The report calls for the banning of transshipment at sea and expanded mandates for unique identifiers and vessel tracking for fishing vessels. Currently AIS is not required on all commercial vessels.

The new analytical tools SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch have developed using public domain AIS data can enable fisheries managers to identify and monitor transshipment anywhere in the world, permanently lifting the veil from the previously invisible practice of transshipment.

The results were obtained through an analysis of over 21 billion satellite signals from Automatic Identification System messages broadcast by ocean-going vessels between 2012 and 2016. Using an artificial intelligence system developed by Global Fishing Watch, Kroodsma’s team identified refrigerated cargo vessels based on their movement patterns. Verifying their results with confirmed fishery registries and open source online resources, they identified 794 reefers. That represents 90 percent of the world’s reefer vessels identified in 2010 according to the US Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. Through further analysis, they mapped 5065 instances in which a reefer and a fishing vessel were moving at a certain speed within a certain proximity to one another for a certain length of time.) Our algorithm was verified by matching a subset of these “likely transshipments” to known transshipments recorded by fishing registries. The data also revealed 86,490 potential transshipments, instances in which reefers that appeared to be alone traveled in a pattern and at a speed consistent with transshipment. Their activity cannot be verified, but given that many fishing vessels turn off their AIS device when they do not want to be detected, and some fishing vessels do not have AIS, these events must be considered potential transshipments.

This work was supported by a grant to SkyTruth from the Walton Family Foundation and made possible by Google through the in-kind use of Google’s cloud computing platforms and technical and project guidance.

The free report and associated datasets are available at

Download images: 

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

CREDIT LINE: Imagery by DigitalGlobe © 2017

CAPTION: In the Indian Ocean, off the remote Saya de Malha bank, the refrigerated cargo vessel (reefer) Leelawadee was seen with two unidentified likely fishing vessels tied alongside. Image Captured by DigitalGlobe on November 30, 2016. (DigitalGlobe)


Credit line: Imagery by DigitalGlobe © 2017 -The Hai Feng 648 is with an unidentified fishing vessel off the coast of Argentina. There is a large mostly Chinese squid fleet just beyond the EEZ boundary. The Hai Feng 648 was previously with the squid fleet at the edge of the Peruvian EEZ and in 2014 took illegally processed catch from the Lafayette into port in Peru. This image was acquired on Nov 30, 2016.

CREDIT LINE: Imagery by DigitalGlobe © 2017

CAPTION: The Hai Feng 648 is with an unidentified fishing vessel off the coast of Argentina. There is a large mostly Chinese squid fleet just beyond the EEZ boundary. The Hai Feng 648 was previously with the squid fleet at the edge of the Peruvian EEZ and in 2014 took illegally processed catch from the Lafayette into port in Peru. This image was acquired on Nov 30, 2016.



Learn about a complementary report released today by our partners at Oceana.

Read more about the images above and how our partners at SkyTruth captured the images of a Thai reefer in a likely transshipment in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.




Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one third of the world’s wild fish catch. With over 100 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. To learn more, visit


SkyTruth is a nonprofit organization using remote sensing and digital mapping to create stunning images that expose the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and other human activities. We use satellite imagery and geospatial data to create compelling and scientifically credible visuals and resources to inform environmental advocates, policy-makers, the media, and the public. To learn more, visit


Google Earth Outreach is a team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address environmental and humanitarian issues through partnerships with non-profits, educational institutions, and research groups. To learn more, visit

*Global Fishing Watch analyzes Automatic Identification System (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. As AIS data varies in completeness, accuracy and quality, 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 all 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.


For Media

Right click to download original image.

Using the Global Fishing Watch Map, we are able to see the tracks of fishing vessels operating around U.S. Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. /Credit Global Fishing Watch

Caption: U.S. Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. /Credit Global Fishing Watch Using Global Fishing Watch, researchers were able to identify commercial fishing vessels operating around U.S. Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge from January 1, 2013 through December 31, December 14.  Credit: Global Fishing Watch

NOTE: Log in to the map.  (It’s free). Then go to THIS WORKSPACE to see the active map of these vessel tracks. You can change date ranges, zoom in, select a specific vessel, animate the timeline and much more.

For more information, contact:

Kimbra Cutlip
Global Fishing Watch