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For the past decade Global Fishing Watch has been at the forefront of cutting-edge and open-access vessel monitoring technology that you can view from anywhere around the world. Earlier this year SAFET’s Executive Director, Jeremy Crawford, sat down with Global Fishing Watch’s Chief Innovation Officer, Paul Woods, in a segment called “5 Questions” where we interview tech innovators and implementers for seafood and fisheries from around the world on the work that they do, and on exciting new updates in their organization. In this episode we chatted with Paul a bit about how he got involved with Global Fishing Watch, the new API Portal that they’ve recently launched, and the API portal hackathon coming up at the beginning of next year.


Q: How did you get involved at Global Fishing Watch?

“I’m a software developer by background, working in commercial software as a career, mostly with start-up software companies in the Washington DC area. By the late-2000s during the financial collapse, I was working with several big banks using some big data software that we built to help them optimize and pick through the wreckage of the mortgage crisis, and at some point in 2009 I thought ‘I could be doing something better with my life’.”

Paul then came across an NGO called SkyTruth, who were using remote sensing data to report on environmental issues, “I really didn’t know anything about remote sensing, but after the Deep Water Horizon spill in 2010, I saw how effective SkyTruth was at reporting on the size of the slick and to be a really truly independent watch-dog. When it turned out that SkyTruth’s reporting on the size of the slick was much more accurate than any of the authoritative sources, I got excited about the potential to scale up that capability…”

Paul then went to work for SkyTruth and figured out how to automate and process remote sensing data to extract environmentally useful insights. The work with SkyTruth and remote sensing of ocean data ultimately led to Global Fishing Watch.

Q: Why is it important that vessel tracking data is democratized, free and available?

“Our first big insight came when we started working with satellite collected vessel tracking data from AIS [Automated Identification System]. Before 2012, it wasn’t possible to do what we’ve been doing, you could only get AIS data locally – you could get it from your own receiver on your boat or you could get it from a terrestrial receiver onshore near a port. Then when satellites started picking this up, we realized there was an enormous amount of information in there.”

While most people were just using it to look at ‘where are the vessels now’, Paul and SkyTruth were interested in historical data and seeing patterns of activity. Initially looking for oil spills, they wanted to know which vessels were associated with the oil spills, but when they took all the vessel data and threw it on a map, the fishing activity just ‘popped right out’. “If you plot all the data from AIS for a couple of months in the Pacific Ocean, the fishing just stands right out, you don’t have to do anything to immediately see in what part of the ocean the fishing is concentrated.”

At the time they were looking at machine learning models and said to themselves, “You know, if we just took all this data and applied some models to it, we could tell people where all the fishing was… people might be interested in that…”.

That led to a conversation with Oceana, “…and when they saw what we could do they lit right up, and immediately came up with 100 things that we could do with the data right away. Then showing the data to Google they said, ‘Wow – that’s a neat and novel global data set, and we would love to help you distribute it to everybody’. And here we are 8 years later, and we are still working our way through those original 100 things.

“That was the fundamental founding idea to Global Fishing Watch. We need to get this new data set out and share it with people so everyone can see what’s going on – democratize access to it, in the hopes of better management.”

Q: Global Fishing Watch is at the forefront of innovation in fisheries monitoring – How is Global Fishing Watch staying ahead of the curve, in particular this new API portal that you’ve launched?

“We’re always applying new remote sensing technologies – we’re using satellite radar now to detect vessels that turn AIS off or that don’t broadcast, and that’s really exciting…”

Typically, users of the Global Fishing Watch map zoom around, click on a spot and use the slider to see historical data over a period of time, see some fishing activity and click on it, ‘that’s one way to get information out of the system’.

“But a lot of folks, researchers, institutions, already have their own software systems and really want the data where they could just plug it in – so that’s what the API portal is for. We piloted this with NOAA, we did a project with their office of law enforcement, they wanted to build a big dashboard and look at fishing behavior. We learned a lot about feeding our data in a live stream into another data system so that’s what led to the development of the API portal.”

“So, you can go up on the website, go to the API portal, and anybody that can do a little bit of coding can write a bit of software that will pull any slice of data from the global data set, it’s all the fishing events we detect from 2012 until 3-days ago – and all the identity information that we can track….”

“Previously we were dumping annual data sets and one of the complaints was the data sets were just way too big – in order to do anything you had to download this monstrous data set just to find the piece that you wanted – so that was one of the motivations for the API, so now you can write a query that just pulls out the exact slice you want, and if all you need is 100 vessels – just go get the 100 vessels.”

Q: What are some of the use cases you are seeing for the new API portal?

“We’re excited to see MRAG as one of our early adopters so they’re using our APIs to pull data for fishery assessments – they’ve been going to our public map and take screen shots whereas now they can pull the data directly.”

Telecommunication companies laying undersea cables have a lot of interest in vessels that bottom-trawl, “We will be releasing into the API a new classification where we identify which vessels we think are bottom-trawling. Which is of interest for a lot of things, not just for fishing, but for companies that lay undersea cables who need to know where bottom-trawling occurs since they don’t want nets being dragged across their cables.”

The other use case is obviously enforcement, fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS). “If you go into enforcement command centers you’ll see their vessel monitoring system, or VMS, and somewhere you’ll see a screen from Global Fishing Watch on it – and they’ll use that to check against what they’re seeing now, or if they’re seeing something and want to compare it to last year they’ll go into Global Fishing Watch. So now the potential is that Global Fishing Watch data can flow into their primary system, so they don’t have to go flipping back-and-forth between screens.”

Q: Next year Global Fishing Watch is hosting a hackathon – can you tell us a little about that?

“The idea is to generate new ideas – whenever we release an API there’s a few sophisticated users and they know how to use it, but we feel there’s a lot of potential particularly for apps. So, we’re developing an app that’s designed for use in ports for port-inspectors, it’s called ‘Vessel Viewer’. The idea is you can use the API in an app on your mobile device to get all the information on a vessel just as it arrives in port before you start your inspection – everything you need to know is there.”

“However, there are 100s of apps that could be useful like that and have other useful information that we don’t have. So what we love to do is get people’s ideas – maybe somebody already has an app and they just want some help to integrate the API for our data to overlay it – so with the hackathon we’re hoping to attract many different use cases and people with different domain knowledge that will bring their ideas to it and come up with things we would have never would have thought of.”

by Bubba Cook, Mark Young and Melissa Mahoney

In today’s fisheries, in nearly every ocean and coastal area, evidence of overfishing, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) and forced labor practices all point to an industry on the verge of self-destruction. Unfortunately, fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) efforts - needed for oversight and enforcement of fisheries - have often been unable to keep up with the fishing industry and its ability to operate 'out of sight' across the world's oceans. However, that 'out of sight' dynamic has begun to change thanks to increasingly mature investments in technological advancements now available to MCS professionals and fishery managers.

The final session of the 2020-21 SAFET conference shined a bright light on just how much is being done to address IUU and overfishing in some of the world’s most important fisheries as well as the growing number and types of technology tools available in the MCS toolbox.

SAFET was privileged to have Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, the Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and one of the most accomplished women leaders in the Pacific tuna fisheries, to provide the keynote address. Dr Tupou-Roosen highlighted the role of FFA and its 17 member states to manage one of the largest and most valuable fisheries that spans 30 million square kilometers and is worth more than USD $1 Billion annually. She described how the pandemic has hit the region particularly hard, shutting down tourism and making fishing revenues more important than ever. Additionally, she noted the recent analysis FFA conducted in 2016 that estimated the economic impact of IUU in the region at a cost of USD $600 Million annually. Dr Tupou-Roosen emphasized how important MCS was to the FFA and its members, to effectively target the perpetrators of IUU, and how “a vessel is just a platform…it’s the persons or companies that run the businesses we need to identify.”

Mark Young, Executive Director of the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (IMCS) Network, provided a brief overview of the IMCS Network, reflecting the growing recognition of the importance of public-private partnerships and cooperation in the fight against IUU fishing and how private organizations can support governmental MCS efforts, particularly in developing countries that possess limited resources. Two important ways the Network facilitates collaboration and cooperation is through their website and the Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop (GFETW), which is the only international conference focused on bringing together MCS practitioners to discuss challenges and issues in the fight against IUU.

The Cutting Edge

SAFET once again convened some of the top experts from around the world to discuss some of the advancements in a variety of technologies used in MCS, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”), acoustic monitoring, and satellite monitoring.

Melissa Schiele of Loughborough University UK presented on using water landing UAVs in

Belize and Uganda to conduct scientific surveys as well as detect and monitor IUU activity. Their work is proving out the applicability of UAVs in for aerial surveys, paired with machine learning and artificial intelligence used to identify activity on the water and species of interest. Ms. Schiele noted how drone technology has advanced significantly in the last few years to the point where they are increasingly becoming an important remote sensing tool, especially when used in conjunction with other MCS tools.

Dr Chris Wilcox of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) presented on how acoustic monitoring could be used to not only detect illegal dynamite fishing but could also be used to triangulate and track vessels based on an acoustic signature. Dr. Wilcox also noted the value of open-source software to extract better use from existing data, for instance looking at AIS data in new ways in an effort to predict IUU behaviors.

Richard Holmquist of Hawkeye 360 then took the stage to describe their new technology that uses radio frequency (RF) signals to make “dark vessels,” vessels that do not transmit a location signal, visible. He emphasized how this technology could be used to further expand the MCS toolbox and complement other technologies such as Visual Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to “shine a light” on those vessels engaged in IUU fishing that attempt to remain invisible.

Austin Brush of the research and analysis firm C4ADS provided a valuable demonstration of how technology could be used to increase transparency and assist MCS practitioners to better identify the true perpetrators of IUU fishing and other illegal activities. He reported on the Triton Fisheries Transparency Panel, which created a database of registered vessels that visualizes the whole network of corporate ownership in an effort to target the “persons of interest” behind an operation. Mr. Brush echoed the theme of Dr. Tupou-Roosen that “vessels don’t commit crimes, people do.” He highlighted how complex and convoluted that beneficial ownership can often be as well as how difficult it is to determine which entities, whether people or organizations, are the true beneficiaries of illegal fishing.

Breaking Out

In the breakout sessions, participants discussed various legal hurdles of MCS, such as what kinds of data are admissible in court. Also there was consensus that more effort needed to be committed to improved data sharing arrangements across platforms regardless of the data collected, noting that collecting data for data’s sake is not a good use of time or resources and that there needs to be defined pathways for data to be used in MCS and management. Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, which uses satellite tracking technology to visualize geo-positioning and movement of vessels, has significantly improved transparency and greater understanding of IUU behavior. However, because it is an “open” system as opposed to VMS which is “closed”, AIS is subject to greater opportunities for manipulation such as turning on and off, changes in vessel identity, and even manual manipulation of geo-position (called “spoofing”) – so when these human interventions occur, it does subject AIS to “inaccuracies” – so users must be mindful of this limitation.

The key takeaways of the session include:

  • Technology has advanced substantially, especially with respect to remote sensors on satellites, but generally across all technologies with each becoming more powerful, compact, efficient, and effective.

  • Compared to 2 years ago, MCS technology has dramatically increased the overall transparency of what is occurring on the water, providing much greater maritime domain awareness that, in turn, allows for a better understanding of the activities of fishing vessels, fleet dynamics, and risks of illegal fishing.

  • Similar to previous events, there was broad recognition that technology cannot solve problems on its own, but rather facilitates and enhances MCS professional’s abilities by providing “additional MCS tools to the MCS toolbox” that increase the capabilities of compliance officers to effectively detect, deter and work towards eliminating IUU fishing.

  • Unreported or mis-reported catch remains recognized as the most significant gap as one of the “U’s” in “IUU” with technology, especially greater digitization of data capture and sharing, playing an ever-increasing role in addressing this risk.

  • Among digital data capture tools, there is increasing global recognition that electronic monitoring represents one of the most effective tools for both MCS as well as science.

  • There is growing awareness and understanding of the important role that cooperation and collaboration play in establishing effective MCS programs, such as that employed by the Pacific Islands FFA. This includes the important role of public-private partnerships, which vastly improve or facilitate greater access of technology and technological platforms to support MCS, especially those in developing countries with limited resources and capabilities.

We thank all the presenters and those who contributed to the rich dialogue. We also wish to highlight the technology spotlight sessions. Many thanks to reps from WildAid, Integrated Monitoring, Woods Hole Group, Xerra, and SubSeaSail. As always, it was great to have these tech providers contributing to the event by providing not only great visuals and overviews of their products and services, but also stimulating some great discussion!

While the SAFET Webinar sessions have concluded for the year, we will continue to use the

In today’s fisheries, in nearly every ocean and coastal area, evidence of overfishing, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and forced labor practices all point to an industry on the verge of self-destruction. Unfortunately, fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) efforts - needed for oversight and enforcement of fisheries - have often been unable to keep up with the fishing industry and its ability to operate 'out of sight' across the world's oceans. However, that 'out of sight' dynamic has begun to change thanks to increasingly mature investments in technological advancements now available to MCS professionals and fishery managers. anagers. nagers. agers. gers. ers. rs. s. .

by Sara Lewis, Kate O'Rourke and Bubba Cook

Not so long ago, if you wanted to have a fish dinner, you might stroll to the nearby waterfront where fishermen would sell their catch of the day, or to your local fishmonger. Chances were, you knew where and how that fish was caught, and you had no doubt that the species you requested is what you received. Essentially, you knew the story of where that food came from.

If you want to have a fish dinner today, the good news is there are a lot more choices, but the bad news is it’s not as easy to know what you’re actually getting.

Today’s seafood market is global and progressively mobile, so it’s hard to know if the seafood you buy is from a particular geographic region, much less who caught it, or whether it was captured in an ethical or sustainable way. You might not even get the species you asked for!

With increasing reports of seafood fraud, human rights violations, and illegal fishing, there are more reasons than ever for governments to capture and use data to help manage seafood information that must also be shared with consumers to better understand where their seafood is from and how it was produced. Thus, the importance of a seafood product’s story has become incredibly important in today’s global and increasingly discerning marketplace.

Bait to Plate: Visualize the power of end-to-end traceability where electronic data is captured in and shared up the supply chain as the product continues its journey.

For the 4th Session of the 2020-2021 SAFET virtual conference, held on February 18th, 2021, SAFET teamed up with the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) an initiative run by FishWise. SALT brought together seafood producing government officials, industry, and NGO partners to discuss how some countries are beginning to use a range of traceability technologies to capture data electronically and illuminate their supply chain. It also introduced the new global electronic traceability Principles to help governments and their counterparts achieve their goals.

The keynote speaker of the session, Sara Lewis, Traceability Division Director at FishWise, applauded the vast array of new traceability technologies and the surge in willingness by governments and industry to invest in and leverage technology for more transparent seafood supply chains. She shared the ubiquitous story within traceability of the need for clear guidance on how to use these tools in a way that is supportive of a comprehensive approach to traceability; one that realizes ecological, social, and economic benefits. To address this gap, over the past year Ms. Lewis, on behalf of SALT, convened a global consultative committee with 35 representatives from 18 countries to develop guidance on how to create or improve existing comprehensive electronic traceability programs. The result of this year-long process is the electronic traceability Principles released to the public on February 25, 2021. The Principles are supported by guidance on how to apply them through the Pathway to the Principles, which links existing resources, pulled from the global community of traceability, data and technology, policy and governance, and social responsibility.

Comprehensive Electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability Principles: Reach out to SALT for more information on the Principles or opportunities to apply them, SALT@fishwise.org.

Representatives from two seafood producing country governments, Indonesia and Thailand, and their partners joined this session to share traceability challenges faced in their respective regions, and on harnessing the power of the data within traceability systems to achieve interoperability and transparency, respectively.

Director General Artati Widiarti, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) oversees the Directorate of General Product Competitiveness. She is responsible for Indonesia's export sales of 5.2B USD annually. Director General Artati joined the discussion with Janti Djuari, Chairwoman of AP2HI that was moderated by Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert. Director General Artati and Ms. Djuari shared the traps and ultimate triumph of sharing information between the government and private sector’s seafood traceability systems. The successful data sharing between government and industry advanced the electronic catch documentation data beyond regulatory compliance and transformed it into a useful business tool.

Indonesia has strong commitments in implementing traceability and transparency in fisheries, especially for combating illegal, unreported and undocumented (IUU) fishing and strengthening competitiveness. In 2019, MMAF committed to an electronic logbook (eLogbook) application to digitally capture fisheries data, representing an important advancement from a paper-based catch documentation and traceability system. Today, Indonesia is home to the region's largest eLogbook system that is in 9,750+ vessels in 60 ports. The eLogbook system works in tandem with STELINA, Indonesia's national fish traceability system, to trace seafood from harvest to landing to market.

Figure Courtesy Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries: Traceability System Integration

The extensive catch data collected was critical for Fisheries regulatory review and reform in Indonesia. With these government information collection systems in place, Director General Artati and Ms. Janti began to work together to advance the integration of the government and industry system. Strong integration between industry and the government’s eLogbook and STELINA system were important to ensure that industry has access to high quality data collection, to ensure timely data collection, and to reduce the cost to business of meeting traceability requirements. The market demand for traceability must be considered in relation to the cost to industry. Further, the eLogbook and STELINA data integration meant stronger verification abilities for industry and government.

MMAF and the industry association, AP2HI, are committed to working through inefficiencies and operational challenges. That collaboration helped integrate their traceability systems into a program that was fully supportive of the government's program. It also leveraged the power of that shared information, such as supporting the MSC fisheries certification obtained by nine AP2HI member companies. Overall, tight integration between industry and government is in line with the Indonesian President’s agenda and the planned acceleration of national digital transformation. This was truly a triumph of technology, interoperability, and trust between government and industry. From the government perspective, the next challenge they face is getting wider participation due to the disparity in technology proficiencies and capabilities among actors in the region.

Speakers Top left to right: Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert, Janit Djuari, Chairwomen of AP2HI, and Director General Artati of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries


Dr. Kanit, Director of the Royal Thai Government Department of Fisheries in Bangkok, joined Bradley Soule, Director of Intelligence and Co-founder of OceanMind in Oxford, United Kingdom for a discussion moderated by Fard Maruf, Traceability Expert in Jakarta. Thailand is a major seafood producing country; from local harvesting to importing fish from all over the world, Thai fisheries are a big business.

Foreign Flagged Vessels Landing in Thailand, Photo Courtesy of the Thai Department of Fisheries and OceanMind

As a signatory to the Agreement of Port States Measures (PSMA), Thailand is on the hook to make sure the fish coming through their ports are legal and sustainable. Verification that Thailand's seafood is free from IUU fishing creates inefficiencies, including the time it takes to check the data accompanying the seafood products and asking for more information if data is insufficient. This process can take a lot of time. But as Dr. Kanit pointed out, ensuring verification and transparency in the seafood supply chain comes with challenges, but they are doing the right thing to keep IUU-related products and other non-compliant products out of Thailand. By giving industry transparency into the process of what risks were identified, how they were analysed and rectified—without necessarily giving away any confidential data to the public— better purchasing decisions can be made. It helps to instil a culture of compliance where industry is buying products they know have been validated. And retailers can state with confidence the authenticity and origin of their products. That is where the partnership with OceanMind enters.

Bradley Soule noted that Thailand is a great example for the rest of the world. Their significant contribution and implementation of PSMA is not only an example for governments on how to do this, but also a source of confidence for the private sector to have in the process. One major technical challenge of traceability systems is ensuring compliance. OceanMind was created to address this difficult task and make it easier to identify IUU fishing for governments around the world. OceanMind created risk analysis tools in coordination with the Thai government using techniques including machine learning, automated track analysis comparisons of licences, and regional fisheries management organizations authorizations around the world. These technologies have been integrated into Thailand's existing systems to make it as easy as possible for a mid-level government official to access the risks. The core of the work is enabling governments to take advantage of technologies and traceability efforts from around the world. As part of implementing this new technology and process, Dr. Kanit noted the increasing number of containers coming into Thailand and how, through this system, they have rejected containers that held tuna coming from an area without a permit to catch tuna.

Because PSMA is designed to address the validation of fisheries legality, many see compliance also incorporating social elements. There is an opportunity in the future for governments to consider how the different agencies, such as the Ministry of Fisheries and Ministry of Labor, work together to implement the human element at the same time as the fisheries element. The difficulty going forward is fully aligning government ministries, and to put all those verifications and all those processes into single IT systems. Because if you can't align your policy, it's hard to align a technology system.

Speakers top left to right: Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert, Dr. Kanit, Director of the Royal Thai Government Department of Fisheries in Bangkok, Bradley Soule, Director of Intelligence and Co-founder of OceanMind


Breakout sessions during the event provided an extremely dynamic discussion facilitated by various online technology collaboration tools such as Miro. Feedback following the event marked the breakout groups as a highlight, allowing for direct engagement by stakeholders in a more focused and intimate setting. And last, but not least, technology spotlight sessions were offered by a diverse group of companies including Fishcoin, LegitFish, Woods Hole Group, Chainparency, ThisFish, Cawilai, OpenSC, and Avery Dennison. Many thanks to these folks for providing some great engagement with interested practitioners highlighting their products and services.

The webinar recording and slides may be found on the SAFET website. Don’t forget to register for the next SAFET virtual session on April 8th, 2021 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm GMT-7. We look forward to seeing you then!