Making global oceans governance in/visible with Smart Earth: the case of Global Fishing Watch

Authors: Lauren Drakopulos*, University of Guelph, Jennifer Silver, University of Guelph, Eric Nost, University of Guelph, Noella Gray, University of Guelph, Roberta Hawkings, University of Guelph
Topics: Digital Geographies, Environmental Justice, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Digital political ecology, environmental governance, environmental monitoring, fisheries, data justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 45
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The number and variety of technologies put to use for environmental surveillance is expanding rapidly, making constant data collection and near ‘real time’ analyses possible. But does this ‘Smart Earth’ transform or rely on existing global environmental governance regimes? To explore, we present a case study of Global Fishing Watch (GFW). GFW is a non-profit organization that builds geospatial datasets, hosts an online mapping platform where anyone with internet access can surveil the movement of various types of ocean-going vessels, and shares various data and map products with scientists and practitioners. Two critical points emerge through our research. First, a pressing North-South dynamic: the Global North-based GFW expands its datasets and surveillance capacity by pursuing ‘data sharing’ partnerships with sovereign states, mostly in the Global South. Second, maps and datasets produced by GFW link large fishing vessels to a ‘flag state’ while those vessels’ corporate owners and subsidiaries remain obscured. GFW mapping and datasets are compelling and support advances in fisheries science. At the same time, they rely on and are only legible through existing, hegemonic geopolitical and political economic orders deeply implicated in industrial (over)fishing. The norms and domains of global environmental governance are expanding, but Smart Earth ‘solutions’ risk leaving the structural drivers of environmental change unaddressed.

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