Global Fishing Watch | 2023

Global Fishing Watch

Safeguarding the ocean by making human activity at sea visible

Lawless fishing is destroying ecosystems and hurting coastal communities, and the huge growth in shipping and other industrial activity is adding stress on ocean life. Global Fishing Watch has a plan to illuminate all human activity in the ocean and transform ocean management.

Relevant Stats

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aerial photograph of fishing boats



Two-thirds of the ocean has been significantly altered by human actions. One of the most important and damaging human activities at sea is fishing. Fishing occurs across an area four times larger than all agricultural land combined, making it extremely difficult to monitor. As a result, lawless and destructive fishing — which ranges from illegal activities like poaching protected species to using banned fishing gear — goes unchecked. The cloak of invisibility at sea stretches beyond fishing, as other industrial activity rapidly accelerates, from maritime traffic to offshore oil and gas production. At the heart of this problem lies a simple truth: We can’t manage what we can’t see. Most of the ocean remains unmapped and unobserved and, in this data void, it’s too easy to disregard the law, destroy the environment — and get away with it. Ocean managers, government authorities and conservationists are operating in the dark.

Big Idea

The explosion in big data and satellite coverage offers the opportunity to monitor the ocean better than ever before and transform the way it’s managed. Global Fishing Watch has demonstrated the power of artificial intelligence to shine a light on illegal fishing and, using their deep technical expertise and steadfast commitment to making data freely available, they have a bold plan to exponentially increase and share ocean knowledge. With The Open Ocean Project, they will transform how we see the ocean and protect it — mapping 100% of industrial fishing vessels, hundreds of thousands of small-scale fishing boats and non-fishing vessels, and all fixed infrastructure at sea like aquaculture and oil rigs. Their free data platform, much like the ocean itself, will be a public good, giving a dynamic, transparent understanding of what is happening at sea.


Global Fishing Watch has already built the first-ever map to visualize and publicly track global fishing activity in near real-time. Over the next five years, through The Open Ocean Project, they will add new data sources to go from tracking 20% of the industrial fishing fleet to a full 100% of it. Processing millions of gigabytes of satellite data, they will map and monitor industrial activity at sea, identifying and classifying both vessels and fixed structures. Their advanced analytics will pinpoint where destructive fishing and other lawless activity is happening — and they’ll collaborate with governments, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries, to ensure they have the tools needed to better protect their waters. At the same time, Global Fishing Watch will enable scientists, civil society and the media to use their insights to demand accountability and accelerate a global shift toward greater transparency in ocean stewardship

Why will it Succeed?

Founded in 2015 as a collaboration between Oceana, SkyTruth and Google, Global Fishing Watch is revolutionizing how we understand and manage the ocean, by putting critical information freely into the hands of the people who need it. Their fishing activity map and open data has been used by governments and civil society to improve marine management and protection around the world. Some of the successes include the creation of seven marine protected areas with a combined area more than twice the size of California, a 75% reduction in illicit fishing by Chinese fleets in North Korea’s waters and an eightfold increase in the effectiveness of a US Coast Guard patrol in the North Pacific. With more open data, their map and complementary suite of products will be designed to create new insights and drive action.

Project Impact

Recent Updates

ship in a storm ship in a storm

NBC News

‍The deadly secret of an invisible armada

‍The deadly secret of an invisible armada

Desperate North Korean fishermen are washing ashore as skeletons because of the world's largest illegal fleet.

July 22, 2020
Global Fishing Watch Activity Map Global Fishing Watch Activity Map

Washington Post

A boat went dark. Finding it could help save the world’s fish.

A boat went dark. Finding it could help save the world’s fish.

Today’s high seas are a bit like the Old West: a wilderness too vast to police, offering riches to those with a tolerance for danger and, sometimes, a dubious commitment to the law.

May 24, 2023

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