Our Approach

SFG develops innovative science and applies it to real-world challenges, thereby improving the sustainability of marine resources and coastal communities around the world. We use proven methods and techniques to enhance the ecological and economic performance of fisheries and other blue economy sectors, and we quantify the tradeoffs of different marine management and conservation interventions to inform decision-making by our government, NGO, industry, and philanthropy partners that supports healthy fisheries--including both the fish and fishermen.

boat at sea

What can big data do for our oceans?


A new era of ocean challenges

In an effort to meet the rapidly growing global demand for inexpensive seafood, fishing fleets around the world have become increasingly efficient at exploiting the resources provided by our oceans, sometimes taking extreme measures to do so.  Overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threaten the health of global fisheries and the well-being of the billions of people worldwide who rely on them as a source of food and income. In order to curb IUU fishing and expand conservation areas to recover fish populations, we need new management reforms, as well as strong monitoring and enforcement systems to ensure their success. 


Big data to drive innovative solutions

SFG is working with Global Fishing Watch (GFW), a new technology platform developed by Google, SkyTruth, and Oceana, that uses satellite Automated Information Systems (AIS) data to monitor fishing activity around the world in almost real-time. Thanks to the large data streams provided by GFW, SFG now has access to information about global fishing activity--even that occurring in the most remote areas on the high seas--that has never before been available. We are using these data to answer questions about some of our oceans' most pressing challenges—IUU fishing, overfishing, and human rights abuses aboard fishing vessels—that have tremendous implications for management and conservation.

How do we plan for climate effects on fisheries?


Climate change impacts on global fisheries

Climate change is expected to alter ocean environments and the spatial distribution of fish stocks worldwide. There is a large body of research on the potential effects that climate change will have on global fisheries, but to date, no studies have investigated the critical role that management can play in ensuring fisheries productivity under changing climate conditions. We know that management policies can have a significant impact on biomass and profit, regardless of changes in climate, but in order to enhance the resiliency of fisheries under stress from climate change, we need to incorporate adaptive fisheries management strategies into our models. 


Climate-ready fisheries management strategies

SFG is taking a new approach to fisheries-climate modeling by evaluating both the effects of climate change and fisheries management on biomass, harvest, and profit for 800 species across global fisheries. Our research is helping us develop a more comprehensive understanding of how climate change will affect fisheries worldwide, and our findings suggest that adaptive fisheries management can significantly improve outcomes for fisheries that are stressed by climate change. This is good news for global fisheries and the communities that depend on them; while we cannot stop the warming that is already underway, we can change the way we manage our fisheries to ensure their resiliency in the long run.

fish on scale

How can markets and innovative financing help our oceans?


Declining fish stocks and habitat degradation from increasing fishing effort

Fish are a critical source of food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and the growing global demand for animal protein is driving communities to fish harder than ever before. Nearly 80% of all fisheries are currently being fished at an unsustainable rate, and science-based management reforms are needed to recover these resources and the communities that depend on them. Strong monitoring and enforcement (M&E) programs are ciritcal to the success of management and conservation interventions, especially in the case of marine protected areas (MPAs). But these programs are costly, and with fishery reforms and MPA implementation on the rise across our oceans, we need new strategies for generating sustainable and sufficient funding sources to support M&E efforts.  


Market-based approaches for fisheries management

In order to curb overfishing, many of the world’s largest fishing countries need to adopt new management strategies that incentivize stewardship. SFG works to design rights-based fisheries management systems in which individuals or groups in a fishery are assigned property rights, either in the form of tradable quota or exclusive access to a fishing area. SFG is also assessing the viability of tapping into alternative funding sources to finance conservation, such as revenues generated by marine tourism operators or the fishing industry.

island coastline photo

How do we reduce user conflicts in a crowded ocean?


Conflicting ocean uses

The world's oceans are becoming increasingly crowded with fishing, energy development, aquaculture, diving, whale watching, and many other uses. More informed and strategic planning is needed to reduce conflicts and optimize the value of competing uses of the marine environment


Strategic marine planning

SFG couples bioeconomic and spatial modeling tools to assess tradeoffs and synergies between new and existing ocean uses to create optimal plans that manage for multiple goals.

fisherman wading in water

How can we manage fisheries with fewer data?


Managing fisheries under uncertainty

Most of the world’s small-scale fisheries lack the data needed to conduct formal assessments and develop science-based management systems, and consequently, fisheries are commonly managed under great uncertainty. This can lead to overfishing, or precautionary management that is ineffective and economically unfavorable for fishermen.


Data-limited fisheries assessment and management

SFG has developed a variety of alternative methods for assessing and managing data-limited fisheries. These approaches are less costly than traditional stock assessments and require less data to forecast the biological and economic effects of management interventions. SFG provides managers with trainings on these assessment tools so they can better understand the status of their stocks and develop new management strategies that are best suited for the characteristics of their fisheries.

What are the potential benefits of global fisheries reform?


Fisheries reform is a high-risk investment

Three billion people worldwide rely on seafood as a key source of protein, and about 260 million people work in ocean-related sectors. Beyond food and job security, fishing economies add billions of dollars to global GDP. But the future productivity of global fisheries is highly uncertain; nearly one third of all fish stocks that have been formally assessed are in decline, and half produce less food, employment, economic value, and biodiversity than they could if they were managed effectively. 


Bioeconomic modeling

SFG and other collaborators have created a new “upside” bioeconomic model that gives the most holistic view to date of the potential benefits to be gained from the ocean if sustainable fishing practices are adopted in small-scale fisheries worldwide. Our results indicate that well-managed fisheries could produce significantly larger wild fish harvests, higher annual profits, and more biomass in the water. The kinds of management reforms that are needed to improve the productivity and sustainability of global fisheries require large financial inputs, and the promising results of our analysis signal to investors and governments that fisheries reform is a cause worthy of their support.

boats lined up on shoreline

Can aquaculture increase global food security?


Limited information on the potential benefits of sustainable aquaculture

Global demand for animal protein is on the rise, and wild fish stocks alone may not be able to provide enough food to feed the world’s growing population. Sustainable aquaculture is one proven solution for increasing seafood production, but more research is still needed to assess its potential for addressing global food security issues and investigate the effects it could have on wild fisheries, coastal economies, the marine environment, and seafood markets.


Opportunities for sustainable aquaculture

SFG is working to better understand how much food we can produce from aquaculture, the current spatial distribution of global aquaculture farms, how fishers can smoothly transition from capture fisheries to aquaculture production, and the tradeoffs that exist between wild fisheries and aquaculture. Our research on each of these topics is helping us answer the question: can aquaculture effectively increase global food security?