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Combatting illegal fishing

Environment Programme / Partner story

Photo by Jean Wimmerlin from Unsplash

More than 520 million people around the world rely on fishing for their livelihoods, and over three billion people depend on fish as a crucial part of their diet. Unfortunately, illegal fishing threatens this source of income. Today we are seeing 30 per cent of the world’s fish stocks overexploited, reaching below the level at which they can produce sustainable yields. This significantly undermines national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks, and disadvantages and discriminates against those fishers that act responsibly and honestly.

It is challenging to combat illegal fishing, in no small part due to the vast size of the world’s oceans. Many countries have insufficient resources to patrol and monitor their oceans. International governments and organisations are driving a new momentum to protect the seas. Oak Foundation partner, Global Fishing Watch, is playing a vital role in this process, providing the world’s first public global view of commercial fishing. Free and accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection, Global Fishing Watch uses cutting-edge technology to visualise and track more than 65,000 of the world’s largest commercial fishing vessels in near real time and share data about global fishing activity to promote ocean sustainability through greater transparency.

“Activity taking place on the ocean often happens out of sight and it’s hard for people to know what’s going on – therefore it’s hard to manage,” says Paul Woods, chief innovation officer at Global Fishing Watch. “Global Fishing Watch collects the data that is hard to retrieve and reveals the activity that’s hard to see — and we make that information available so that people can more sustainably manage the use of our ocean.”

Global Fishing Watch is sharing information publicly at an unprecedented scale and the results are outstanding. “Transparency can act as a significant deterrent to bad behaviour and can help drive much better research, which can facilitate stronger and clearer policies,” says Tony Long, chief executive officer at Global Fishing Watch. “We can change the way our ocean is fished and help ensure the sustainability of its marine resources.”

In 2018, Oak Foundation began funding Global Fishing Watch to support the Republic of Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Taiwan to publish vessel monitoring system data on the Global Fishing Watch map. Global Fishing Watch held training workshops across the three nations with key stakeholders to explore new Global Fishing Watch products, latest research trends, and to provide technical training. This resulted in an additional 10,000 industrial fishing vessels being publicly trackable.

In July 2020, Global Fishing Watch published a groundbreaking scientific paper revealing widespread illegal fishing activity by dark fleets – vessels that do not publicly broadcast their location or appear in public monitoring systems – in the waters between the Koreas, Japan and Russia. The illegal fishing of around 4,000 vessels was uncovered, underlining the value of transparency and technology to improve the monitoring of fishing activity. 

The scientific study, along with other work undertaken by Global Fishing Watch to detect dark fleets, are supporting government action to fight illegal fishing. China and the Republic of Korea recently reached an agreement to ramp up joint efforts to tackle illegal fishing by vessels operating in North Korean waters. Fisheries agencies and coast guards are also showing an increased interest in applying satellite technologies and artificial intelligence to support their monitoring and enforcement actions. A follow-up analysis examining fishing activity by dark fleets in North Korean and Russian waters throughout 2020 shows a significant decline – one that is likely reflective of increased satellite monitoring, as well as the impact of the coronavirus.

Transparency is crucial for good stewardship of our global ocean – to fight illegal fishing, to protect fish stocks and livelihoods, and to increase the safety and wellbeing of fishers. Global Fishing Watch is committed to promoting international cooperation and transparency around ocean data towards a new era of ocean governance.

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Environment Programme, which seeks to safeguard the future by restoring our connection to nature, and changing the ways we feed and fuel our world. We have a responsibility to take care of our planet for future generations, and we face a range of challenges in the process. Luckily, there is still time to act and the actions we take today can revive the planet’s health for the future. You can read more about the programme here. To learn more about Global Fishing Watch, visit its website here, or take a look at some of its informative videos on YouTube here.