The bottom trawler ’Kirkella’ operates in the Barents Sea off the east coast of Svalbard, located about 500nm (950km) north of Norway on July 7, 2016. Greenpeace says fishing is now taking place in areas further north than previously as ice retreats. The newly developed system can accurately track tens of thousands of commercial fishing vessels around the world. Photo:Greenpeace-Nick Cobbing

Tracking the world’s fishing fleet


For the first time, fishing vessels world-wide can be tracked.

Researchers from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia along with other institutions, have developed the new global fishing dataset.

Kristian Boerder (PhD candidate) at the Boris Worm Lab at Dalhousie is co-author of the study


The study was published in the journal Science under the title, “Tracking the global footprint of fisheries”  (abstract HERE)

Kristina Boerder (PhD student) Dalhousie University, N.S

The tracking shows that many vessels are in fact floating fishing factories, operating around the clock, over long distances and periods.

In creating the new database Dalhousie has partnered with Global Fishing Watch, the University of California, Stanford University, National Geographic Society, SkyTruth, and Google to produce the first ever dataset of global industrial fishing activities by using an unprecedented collection of satellite-sensed automatic identification system (AIS) positions. Some 70,000 industrial fishing vessels were tracked by computer and followed on a global map.

Fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia using the newly developed technology. The white and blue spots are fishing activity. The pink line indicates the tracked movement of a specific trawler (image altered to remove vessel ID) Image: Global Fishing Watch

The type of ship and the type of fishing can be identified as well as when it’s fishing and exactly where.

Boerder says they were surprised to see over half the worlds ocean surface was getting some measure of fishing activity, and adds that the figure is likely much higher as not all vessels were tracked.

A Chinese trawler fishing off the coast of West Africa: The new programme can track individual vessels to Photo: Pierre Gliezes for Greenpeace

She also noted that in general, protected marine areas and the 200 nm economic exclusion zones, were generally not being encroached upon.

The dataset developed by the researchers will be freely available to the public, which will allow anyone to download, visualize and analyze the global footprint of fishing.

Image showing areas of the oceans being fished by large commercial vessels. Image: Global Fishing Watch

Quoted in a press release, David Kroodsma, Lead Author and Director of Research and Development of Global Fishing Watch said, “By publishing the data and analysis, we aim to increase transparency in the commercial fishing industry and improve opportunities for sustainable management.” said

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One comment on “Tracking the world’s fishing fleet
  1. Avatar Peter Ashcroft says:

    Utilising this data worldwide should curtail or prevent overfishing by factory fleets.
    All current and future fishing must be run in a sustainable manner, and in respect of each country’s allocation.