In 2016, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation joined with Google, Oceana and Environmental Defense, and other funding partners to create a mapping and data platform called, Global Fishing Watch. The system currently tracks over 65,000 fishing vessels worldwide. In November 2019, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released the “Global Atlas of AIS-based Fishing Activity,” utilizing the data.

“With the data Global Fishing Watch provides, governments, fishery management organizations, researchers and the fishing industry can work together to rebuild fisheries and protect critical marine habitats,” De Caprio says, on the GFW website. It appears the FAO agrees.

A new global atlas of fishing activity was compiled from two years of AIS tracking.

A new global atlas of fishing activity was compiled from two years of AIS tracking.

Global Fishing Watch uses AIS and other tracking systems, such as government run vessels monitoring systems to follow the activities of large fishing vessels in near real time, and the UN is using that data in its report. At the start, the technology was intended to help nations to stop illegal fishing off their coasts, assist in certification of sustainably harvested seafood, and keep vessels out of marine protected areas.

The atlas notes that the Global Fishing Watch data will also improve the statistics used by fisheries analysts and managers to measure fishing activity around the world. The system uses algorithms to identify fishing boats by their behavior, among other things. According to the atlas, the information the organization collects can be used to verify existing statistics and fill in gaps where information is lacking.

While the atlas acknowledges some limitations of and errors in the GFW data, the document contains valuable information on fishing effort worldwide.

The Global Atlas of AIS-based fishing activity is available for download at:

The GFW maps and data are available free to registered users at:

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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