Monitoring vessels at sea: a crucial first step to achieving transparency in fisheries

About 75% of global industrial fishing and 25% of other vessel activity is not publicly tracked, asserts the new publication,  Satellite mapping reveals extensive industrial activity at sea, issued in Nature with lead authors from Global Fishing Watch – a non-governmental organization that seeks to advance ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. The findings suggest that these vessels may be at higher risk of participating in illegal fishing activities, like fishing in marine protected areas, or contributing to forced labor or potential human rights abuses.

This also means that our understanding of  “who” is fishing “where”, “how” and “in what conditions” the fishing activity occurs, can be limited.  As a result, possible negative consequences for coastal communities, marine ecosystems and the global economy are almost impossible to measure.

Over 740 million people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, nutrition, or both. That creates immense pressure on the ocean, combined with a wide range of harmful human activities that affect its state.  Moreover, about a third of fish stocks are fished beyond biologically sustainable levels (threatening the reproduction of fish populations), and an estimated 30–50% of critical marine habitats have been lost owing to human industrialization.

What does public vessel tracking information mean for fisheries transparency?

According to Nature, some of the largest cases of illegal fishing, together with human rights and labor abuses occurring at sea have been committed on vessels that were not using –or required to use- tracking devices. The study revealed that out of the approximately 63,000 vessels detected by GFW between 2017 and 2021, close to a half of them were industrial fishing vessels. Less than 25% of all industrial fishing vessels were publicly tracked, as presented in the following map (adapted from the publication).


When governments do not require the use of tracking devices for fishing vessels or do not make this information public, their vessels cannot be publicly tracked at the level required to effectively manage fishing activities at sea. For example, this research found fishing vessels not publicly tracked inside protected areas, including Galapagos Marine Reserve (~5 vessels/ week) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (~20 vessels/week).

What needs to be done?

The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency (CFT) is a global initiative that brings together civil society organizations to promote transparency in the global seafood sector. The coalition’s work is based on the 10 policy principles included under the Global Charter. One of them – principle five – requires governments to mandate the use of vessel tracking devices and make vessel position data publicly available. Sharing vessel tracking data can help reduce the likelihood of labor rights violations, measure the real impact of fishing activity to effectively manage fish stocks, and detect potential illegal fishing activity within marine protected areas. In 2023, CFT organized a regional workshop in Southeast Asia to learn more about members’ concerns around fisheries transparency, current efforts in the region, and opportunities for possible future collaboration with local organizations. Surprisingly, none of the countries in the Asia region currently makes vessel position data from vessel monitoring system (VMS) publicly available, and while data from Automatic Information System (AIS) is public, most countries do not require the use of AIS for all commercial fishing vessels. 

Given the pervasive lack of transparency at sea, CFT calls on governments around the world to make vessel tracking systems a requirement, and its data publicly available to effectively monitor vessel activity at sea. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency?
The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency is a network of international civil society organizations (CSOs) that work towards advancing transparency and accountability in fisheries governance and management. United around the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency, Coalition’s members urge governments around the world to adopt its principles into law and practice. The Charter comprises key transparency priorities in fisheries management that must be addressed in order to combat illegal fishing and overfishing, prevent human rights and labor abuses from happening at sea, ensure strong fisheries management, increase equitable participation in fisheries decision-making, and enable thriving coastal communities.

What does the Coalition aim to achieve?
The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency aims to bring about equitable, sustainable, and well-governed fisheries, free from harmful fishing practices and human rights and labor abuses. We do this by connecting and supporting CSOs in their efforts to advance and accelerate fisheries transparency policies around the world.

Who is part of the Coalition?
Members are at the heart of the initiative as they drive the Coalition’s work by identifying the challenges and priorities to advancing transparency in their countries and/or regions. Members are CSOs around the world that work on fisheries policy reforms. A full list of members can be found on the Members page. Guiding the Coalition is a steering committee of civil society organizations, co-chaired by the Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana,and joined by Accountability.Fish, Global Fishing Watch, Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), PRCM (The Regional Partnership for the Conservation of the Coastal and Marine Zone), Seafood Legacy, and the WWF Network. Together, representatives from these organizations provide assistance and share their expertise in fisheries transparency to achieve the Coalition’s mission. The Coalition’s Secretariat supplements members’ efforts through assistance in the areas of communications, research and policy analysis, coordination and partnership building, and strategy development. The Secretariat is composed of a director, policy analyst, communications manager, and associate.

What is the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency?
The Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency is a set of 10 policy principles developed to support CSOs in bringing about effective change in fisheries governance and transparency to combat fisheries mismanagement and illegal fishing, and to prevent human rights and labor abuses from happening at sea. The Charter provides a framework for member organizations to urge governments to implement fisheries transparency policy reforms, in law and in practice. While intended for the entire fisheries sector and readily implementable in industrial fisheries, the Coalition acknowledges that some principles in the Charter require further adaptation before they can be effectively applied to all small-scale fisheries.

How does an organization become a member of the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency?
The Coalition consists of voluntary members. Organizations may request to join the Coalition by submitting a Membership Application form in English, Spanish, or French. The Coalition’s Secretariat will review each application and approve or flag the application for further evaluation by the steering committee. If flagged, the steering committee will discuss the application at their next meeting, with a decision on membership made by consensus. The Coalition will provide a response to new member applications within six weeks of submission. To mitigate any potential conflicts of interest, the Coalition does not extend formal membership to governments, industry entities, or CSOs that operate and/or advocate on behalf of commercial industry. However, these stakeholders are welcome to participate in the Coalition as Affiliates and may request to become an Affiliate by submitting this form.

What are the requirements of membership?
Member expectations and requirements can be found in the Membership Handbook and accompanying Code of Conduct.

Is there a cost for Coalition membership?
There are no membership fees.

Are members financially compensated?
Members are not compensated and should disclose any conflict of interest, including financial or other interest that is adverse to the Coalition’s interests or would otherwise interfere with performance in the Coalition.

Can an organization that does not work on all Charter principles still join the Coalition?
The Coalition does not expect members to work on all Charter principles. However, when joining the Coalition, members agree to the Charter in full as its principles serve as the Coalition’s guiding framework.

How is the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency different from other transparency-focused efforts?
A number of organizations and coalitions are already doing important work to increase fisheries transparency through directly partnering with governments, promoting improved management of regional fisheries management organizations, and working closely with industry to enhance their transparency and traceability practices. The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency is adding to these on-going efforts by centering its approach on organizing CSOs, helping them to accelerate transparency policy reforms through government advocacy. The Coalition’s focus on civil society enables the Coalition to complement the efforts of these other initiatives to collectively move the needle forward on transparency in fisheries globally.

How is the Coalition funded?
The work of the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency is made possible thanks to the generous financial support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Oceans 5, and Oceankind. The Coalition does not accept funding from industry or government sources.

Civil society groups launch Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency at 2023 Our Ocean conference.

The launch of the Charter by the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency lays out a new roadmap to advance marine governance around the world.

PANAMA CITY, Panama, March 02, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency – a new international community of civil society organizations – today launched the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency. The Charter pinpoints the most essential policy priorities needed to combat fisheries mismanagement, illegal fishing, and human rights abuses at sea. Experts, ministers, and delegates from international organizations and companies around the world discussed the benefits of the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency at Our Ocean conference in Panama this Thursday and Friday – an annual meeting for countries, civil society and industry to announce significant actions to safeguard the world’s oceans.

“Ghana recognizes the critical role that transparency plays in the fight against illegal fishing to protect livelihoods and provide food security to our coastal communities,” said Hon. Mavis Hawa Koomson, Ghana’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development. “With the significant progress Ghana has made in the last year on ending harmful fishing practices that have encouraged illegal fishing in our waters, we are now working towards making greater efforts towards sustaining fisheries transparency in Ghana.”

Prof. Maxine Burkett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries and Polar Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, highlighted how the U.S. plays a leading role in increasing transparency in global fisheries.

“Last year, President Biden released a National Security Memorandum that recognizes the importance of transparency for combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and associated forced labor abuses,” she said. “By enhancing productive information-sharing, the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency will serve as an important complement to the U.S. government’s activities to end IUU fishing through improving fisheries and ocean governance, increasing enforcement efforts, and raising ambition to end IUU fishing globally.”

Additionally, global partnership initiatives, like the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), emphasized the importance of equal, multi-stakeholder collaboration to increase transparency in coastal countries for achieving sustainably managed marine fisheries.

“Given the complexity of fisheries governance, multiple transparency efforts are needed to address the various challenges of unsustainable marine fisheries, such as overfishing, IUU fishing, unequal access to fisheries resources, and unfair benefit sharing,” said Dr. Valeria Merino, Chair of the International Board of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI). “The 10 principles of the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency recognize the need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to fisheries transparency, and has the potential to support existing global endeavors, such as the FiTI, through a much-needed mobilization of civil society organizations to ensure that marine fishing activities are legal, ethical, and sustainable.”

Finally, the role of the civil society to maximize collective impact to improve transparency has been underlined by Mr. Wakao Hanaoka, Chief Executive Officer of Seafood Legacy (Japan), and a steering committee member of the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency. “Our membership in the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency represents a voice of an international community that allows us to strengthen and amplify our efforts amongst the seafood industry and government towards achieving our goal of making Japan a global leader in environmental sustainability and social responsibility,” he explained.

The Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency lays out a new roadmap to advance marine governance internationally, by providing a set of advocacy principles that are both effective and achievable by all stakeholders involved in fisheries governance and management.

“Continuous advocacy efforts by civil society organizations are critical to improving fisheries governance internationally as well as protecting the ocean and the people who depend on its resources,” commented Maisie Pigeon, Director of the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency. “The Coalition’s mission to deliver an urgent shift towards greater transparency in fisheries will be achieved through supporting our members in developing joint strategies, harmonizing and strengthening efforts, and finally – closing transparency policy gaps in fisheries governance,” she concluded.

Through civil society organizations from around the world, the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency calls on governments to apply the Charter’s principles in legislation and practice.

Press contact: Agata Mrowiec +34 608 517 552