Assignment of unique identifiers for harmonised stock and fishery data

The global fisheries community needs reliable information that identifies where stocks live, and which fisheries target them. This data is essential for management and trade, e.g. to guarantee the provenance of sustainable marine products. Until recently, data was collected by different teams with different objectives, using different formats and references, and a global integration in this sense was long overdue.


The BlueBRIDGE best practice


BlueBRIDGE has developed the Global Record of Stock and Fisheries (GRSF) VRE to address the need to have a global integrated knowledge base on stocks and fisheries; an essential asset to uniquely identify the provenance of fish and associated data. This is achieved by: i) collating records from either national or regional sources, ii) organising and storing information according to specific data standards and protocols which allow comparability between records and consistency of the database, and iii) assigning and publishing Universal Unique Identifiers for single stock and fishery standard identifications.


The GRSF VRE specialises in the harmonization, visualization and analysis of the existing data coming from three existing databases (Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS); RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database and FishSource), a process that is guided by the CWP (the FAO Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics) as concerns the standardization of reference data on species, areas, countries, gears and other classifications. Unifying information requires careful attention to data policies and all the three contributing parties can now endorse all the information they share in the knowlegde base. For the integration work, technological challenges in mapping and managing the content, were solved with semantic technologies feeding a CKAN registry. 


Overall, the assignment of unique identifiers for harmonized stock data is the best practice sought.

To achieve this, the VRE applies the FAIR principles:

  • (meta)data are assigned with a globally unique and eternally persistent identifier. These UID are also available as ‘human readable’ identifiers, to facilitate the use and acceptance of the GRSF records. In addition, the harmonization process relies on public codelists and reference data (e.g. from FAO of the UN, Area and country codes, ASFIS and WoRMS species codes) all under their own UUIDs, thus implementing this FAIR principle.
  • data are described with rich metadata; the GRSF VRE is designed to merge data from 3 systems, and especially focused on data workflows; at each step in this workflow metadata is collected; from the registration of new data (Provenance), its Harmonization (Process), the terms of use (License and validity), and publication (Citation and access points).
  •  (meta)data are registered or indexed in a searchable resource; all data are stored in a semantic knowledge base that is harvested automatically by a CKAN registry (Accessible through the D4Science platform), and where applicable.
  • metadata specify the data identifier.
  • (meta)data are retrievable by their identifier using a standardized communications protocol. The GRSF records are published in a CKAN registry, and the standardized protocols of the registry govern the access not only to GRSF records, but to other information sources as well.
  • (meta)data use a formal, accessible, shared, and broadly applicable language for knowledge representation. The GRSF enables interoperability between currently separate systems by ingesting them, and then storing representations of the information in a semantic knowledge base.
  • (meta)data use vocabularies that follow FAIR principles. Under the aegis of the CWP, the fisheries domain is developing Master Data Management Services (MDM) for all domain relevant codes and reference data. The contributing parties have committed to expose their data under these guidelines and principles.
  • (meta)data include qualified references to other (meta)data. These GRSF records use reference links to identify both content (reference data) and context (the business metadata).
  • meta(data) have a plurality of accurate and relevant attributes. All data passing through this VRE are enriched with relevant metadata, and are even dependent on these for their life-cycle. 
  • (meta)data are released with a clear and accessible data usage license. The terms of use of BlueBRIDGE are clear on the license, and this is added to most datasets.
  • (meta)data are associated with their provenance. BlueBRIDGE ensures that the GRSF record source is well described and contains links and reference to data contributors source page and their citation.
  • (meta)data meet domain-relevant community standards. The development of the VRE was driven by community (Including the FAO CWP on statistical reference data) to ensure the pervasive and correct use of community standards.


The main beneficiaries of this practice are data managers in the fisheries domain and fisheries policy makers. In addition, the need for unequivocal stock exists in trade and industry, especially for traceability and sustainable market initiatives. 




Why this is considered a best practice  

Best Practice Analysis


The services provided via GRSF were tested and validated by VRE Data managers using a FURPS approach (Functionality – Usability – Reliability – Performance – Security). After the FURPS validation of the technical readiness of the services, the data were further validated by experts in the sector using a dedicated VRE (GRSF Admin) as a data preparation and staging area. Only qualified records are released to the public.


The GRSF unique identifiers enable the inclusion of stock and fishery data across organizations in workflows related to fisheries management; this can drive innovation in the traceability of marine products. At technology level, the availability of GRSF services will enable the development of similar services for data associated with the GRSF, such as unique identifiers to capture data and model output identifiers. This discussion has already been initiated.  

Success Factors

The GRSF has to prove at the level of stock records that it can offer a cost-effective way to merge datasets and enrich rather than replace the data sources with additional information. The GRSF provides unique identifiers across systems, and thus requires that a community sees the value of these over their own systems.

There is therefore a need for an institutional awareness regarding data sharing policies which must go beyond the single organization’s policy, and this requires long-term vision. The GRSF overcomes this with a community-driven approach and by putting a well-connected governance team in place with weekly or monthly e-meetings, with outcomes documented in the GRSF Wiki. The e-meetings were complemented by three Technical Working Group meetings were stakeholders had the opportunity to discuss face-to-face the key topics of the GRSF development and its sustainability. Similar initiatives can learn from the GRSF how to establish the community, identify the shared need, and how to work towards a sustainable business model. 


10 reasons make the Global Record of Stocks and Fisheries (GRSF), a key instrument of global fish stocks status monitoring and traceability


  • A comprehensive global information repository on fish stocks and fisheries
  • Collation of independent repositories with complementary data coverages (3 are in already)
  • Information harmonized through international and dedicated standards
  • Assignment and publishing of unique identifiers to stock records for easy information management, retrieving, and interoperability
  • Information managed and displayed in a powerful and effective web-based collaborative environment allowing multiple contributions in a data validation workflow
  • Updates and incremental contributions facilitated
  • Transparency valued through source and ownership metadata, proper citations and credits, and respect of ownerships
  • Contribution to international initiatives such as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (14, 17, …), the FAO State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), ...
  • Users accessing a huge amount of quality data collected in a cost-effective way with distributed effort among authoritative sources
  • Authoritative source of information for traceability and certification in the seafood industry


Sustainability will have to start with a good value proposition that can be developed into a business plan. This is easiest done when there are clear layers of responsibility between infra providers, infra services developers, and communities. A governance model that can develop matches between communities and services providers is essential.


The sustainability of the GRSF was discussed at the last Steering Committee (June 2017, FSC10) of the Fisheries Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS) Partnership between Regional Fisheries Bodies and FAO. It was decided that the Partnership should work towards taking the ownership of GRSF which can help achieve its goal: “facilitate the monitoring of the status and trends of all fishery resources.”


GRSF can be the tool, together with related collaborations, to disseminate the information on national stocks monitored by countries under SDG14.4.1, to contribute to SOFIA indicator on Stock status, to serve traceability needs, etc., and promote their efforts to render their fisheries sustainable to the general public and their own benefit.


This would proceed through expanding and strengthening the current FIRMS Partnership to bodies, countries and resource partners willing to contribute to GRSF, and the FIRMS goal in general.


The third GRSF technical working group meeting (Feb. 2018) jointly held with FIRMS partners, and FAO, Univ. of Washington and SFP representatives discussed the value proposition, a governance model and a business plan to be submitted to FIRMS Steering Committee for its possible final adoption.

Replicability and/or up-scaling

The partnership approach and the focus on data policy offer a possibility to extend the practice beyond the current scope. The data needs are clearly stated, and clear objectives have to be agreed upon for data sharing, focussing on what can be obtained and not only what needs to be given. Since the GRSF is already on a global scale, it applies global standards. These must be flexible enough to allow (local) extensions and filters. In addition, different scales (in spatial resolutions and time) need to be manageable, calling for rather open data structures over well-defined databases. The GRSF implements a vision that can either grow in details (by adding content) or can be replicated to other domains (agriculture, shipping, etc) where global repositories need to be mapped.  


Lessons Learnt

Collaboration on key objectives is fundamental. A community-driven approach was needed for a proper formulation of requirements for offering key services to: i) Stakeholders involved in global/regional/national state of stocks indicators, and ii) Public and private actors involved in eco-labelling, traceability and sustainable fisheries.


The data in this VRE is better described than the original fragmented and dispersed datasets; some contributors adapted new formats and reference data in their own system. The GRSF data now has more access methods, and re-creating a dataset for sharing has become less time consuming. Immediate impacts have been that stock and fishery records are now uniquely identified and available under one umbrella, represented on maps and a global search is enabled across all available sources.  Additional services can be built on top of the GRSF knowledge base to further support stock and fishery status dissemination and monitoring.