A mission to protect oceans monitors ships’ AIS from satellites

Learn how Global Fishing Watch is applying advanced data analytics and machine learning technology to AIS tracking data.

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In February, a Vietnamese ship entered Indonesian waters, likely fished illegally, and then returned to port without consequence.

By March, it was back at sea. There were no signs to indicate that the vessel had raised suspicion, even though it had been making the same voyage since 2019.

But they had in fact been spotted. Using Spire's satellite tracking data, experts at Global Fishing Watch had pieced together a history of the vessels’ every move—they’d uncovered suspicious behavior that would have otherwise continued unnoticed.

The Vietnamese vessel transmitted its location during the weeks it spent in Indonesian waters, leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs.

Monitoring vast oceans needs big data analytics

Today, nearly three million fishing vessels operate across our seas, of which about 60,000— mostly larger vessels—broadcast AIS. With all this traffic, identifying suspicious fishing activity isn’t as simple as following a GPS signal.

The two organizations partnered in 2017, and Global Fishing Watch started consuming Spire’s total AIS feed. When it uploaded the data to its interactive, public map, which visualizes the world’s fishing activity, the chart lit up.

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All fishing vessels' last position in the last 24 hours
Terrestrial AIS Satellite AIS Enhanced Satellite AIS™

“Having the low-cost, global coverage that you get with the Spire satellite AIS completely transforms our ability to understand what’s going on out there. We also benefit from a dynamic environment where we can interact with the data and collaborate with Spire on how we are going to use it in an open way.”

Paul Woods
Chief Technology Officer, Global Fishing Watch