Automatic Identification System (AIS) | WWF
© WWF&Navama

Transparency at sea

Satellite technology helps to provide transparency of fishing 

Fishing should not be “out of sight, out of mind”. Good systems to monitor fishing activity and track fish catches are fundamental. Technically known as “monitoring, control, and surveillance” (MCS), these systems not only allow fisheries managers to know what is going on, they also provide the basic information consumers and seafood companies need for making responsible decisions about the fish they buy and sell. And, of course, strong MCS is the first line of defense against illegal fishing.

In 2012 WWF and its partner navama - technology for nature, launched a new project to make fishing activities more transparent. WWF evaluated data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), a reliable satellite data provider, using a specific methodology developed by WWF and its partner navama, and found out it was possible to retrace the routes and activities of fishing vessels, including those suspected of illegal fishing.  Through the use of the AIS, WWF wants to convince fisheries and fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) that governance rules, fisheries monitoring and control measures need to be improved.  

AIS analysis results

Through AIS data, WWF and navama are able to: 
  • visualise specific routes of fishing vessels and recognise fishing activities
  • notice if boundaries of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), closed fish nursery habitats and areas reserved for artisanal small-scale fisheries are respected
  • enable transparency of fishing operations that will help to improve fisheries management
  • locate harboring and potential transshipment positions
  • detect on which vessels the AIS device was turned off 
"Technological advances like the AIS are a fundamental tool to make fishing operations, in particular those on the high seas, more transparent. They help ensure that our seafood products are legally caught."
Alfred Schumm, Leader WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative

By using the AIS system, WWF has already obtained good results with fisheries and RFMOs.


Illegal fishing

Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing happens in all fisheries, from high seas to coastal zones. The global seafood supply chain is complex and often poorly regulated, enabling the origin and movements of illegal products to be concealed, making it more difficult for the fishing industry and consumers to ensure products are legally caught. More info here.

AIS: how it works

AIS is a satellite system widely used in commercial shipping to help ships avoid collision at sea. It relies on an open data access that allows anyone with an AIS transceiver to send and receive information, and is increasingly used by fishing vessels for at-sea safety and monitoring of fishing operations. Read more here

Download background info about the AIS

Download the AIS flyer. 

Download the WWF Flyer: From vessel tracking to marine conservation.

What we do

WWF works globally to make fishing activities more transparent and to ensure that seafood on the market is fully traceable to legal sources. The AIS helps us to achieve our goals.

Find out more about WWF´s work. 

AIS tracks tuna fishing in the South Pacific

SeaQuest fishing vessels berthed in Suva © WWF
WWF initiated an AIS project in collaboration with tuna fishing company Seaquest Fiji Ltd. to demonstrate that the use of satellite technology can be an efficient and simple method to increase safety on fishing vessels and promote legal and transparent fishing operations. The company installed six Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitters on its vessels to show full transparency of its fishing operations. Read the interview with Seaquest. More info about the project here

Surveilling fishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Radars © WWF
Since 2009, WWF has been supporting several AIS projects with the Direction of the National Park Galapagos (DPNG) as part of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) Management Plan. In 2011, the Sea Shepard Conservation Society and WWF initiated some AIS tracking to monitor vessels operating in the reserve. In 2013, WWF´s Galapagos Programme, WildAid and Conservation International installed advanced radar and port video surveillance systems in the Galapagos to further support DPNG’s and the National Direction of Aquatic Spaces’s monitoring and control efforts within the reserve. 

Designing a new fisheries monitoring system

AIS satellite tracking of fishing operations © WWF
LuxSpace, the technology and space company, Navama - technology for nature and WWF, have recently been awarded an ESA (European Space Agency) contract to develop the design of an innovative fishery monitoring system. The system will exploit satellite technology in the surveillance of fishing activities to promote legal and transparent fishing operations. Find out more. 

Did you know that...

  • The AIS was introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for safety reasons
  • Outside the European Union, installation of the AIS system is only mandatory for vessels over 300 metric tonnes, not on fishing vessels