*IUU Vessel Tracker uses vessel information in the Global Fishing Watch database. This information is transmitted from a vessel’s automatic identification system (AIS) device, which is collected via satellites and terrestrial receivers. Faulty AIS devices, user error, intentional manipulation, crowded areas, poor satellite reception, and transmission flaws are factors that contribute to noise and errors in AIS data, and sometimes those inaccuracies can be reflected in the location of a vessel. Vessel operators can accidentally or purposefully enter false information into their ship’s AIS, thus concealing their identity or location. In crowded areas, such as ports, the massive number of radio transmissions can crowd the bandwidth of satellite and terrestrial receivers, leading to inaccuracies as well. For these reasons, use IUU Vessel Tracker information at your own risk.
IUU fishing is one of the greatest threats to our oceans. The International Trade Commission found the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from IUU fishing in 2019. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, and fishing with prohibited gear or for prohibited fish or wildlife. These illicit activities are often destructive to essential habitat, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing, but also give illegal fishermen an unfair advantage over those that play by the rules. It undermines the responsible management of commercial fishing and ocean conservation. It exploits the natural resources of coastal nations, reduces economic opportunity, and threatens food security. Forced labor and human rights abuses are also commonly associated with IUU fishing. IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allows it to thrive.
If broadly adopted and required, existing, easy-to-implement technologies — such as automatic identification system (AIS) — would improve the transparency of commercial fishing. An AIS is a device that automatically broadcasts vessel identity and location information (e.g., coordinates, speed and direction) as frequently as once every few seconds. Many large vessels, including tankers, shipping vessels and industrial fishing boats, rely on AIS data to safely navigate the ocean. The availability of AIS data allows governments, non-governmental organizations, researchers, and the public to monitor the AIS data for irregularities, trends, and illegal behavior. Requiring more transparency in fishing can help remove the veil of secrecy on the high seas.
Regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) are comprised of member countries that together manage some fisheries on the high seas. RFMOs can set catch limits, authorize vessels to fish, and officially sanction vessels for IUU fishing activities. If a vessel violates the rules of an RFMO, the vessel can be placed on its “IUU Vessel List,” and the repercussions for being “listed” depend on the RFMO. Usually, member countries cannot provide any assistance or services to that listed vessel, such as port access or refueling. Vessels can sometimes be “cross-listed” under different RFMOs, which means a vessel can be placed on one RFMO’s IUU vessel list due to IUU activities in another RFMO. RFMOs perform annual compliance reviews of their IUU vessel lists, but unless effective action is taken in response to the IUU fishing activities that led to the listing or ownership changes, vessels may remain listed indefinitely.
To read the press release, click here.
To read the supporting fact sheet, click here.
To read the methodology of how this map was developed, click here.
To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to stop illegal fishing and increase transparency at sea, please click here.
To take action against illegal fishing, click here.
**IUU Vessel Tracker uses data from Trygg Mat Tracking’s Combined IUU Vessel List (www.iuu-vessels.org), which provides the best available, up-to-date information on all fishing vessels that appear on the IUU vessels lists. This source is compiled from RFMO IUU lists, online vessel databases, national fisheries authorities, and Interpol. Oceana takes steps, such as cross-referencing RFMO lists, to ensure designations are as accurate as possible. Because of the timing of listing and delisting decisions by RFMOs, vessels that have been cross-listed may remain listed on the cross-listing RFMO despite being delisted from the original listing RFMO. For these reasons, any and all information about IUU-listed vessels should be considered reflective of current RFMO listings and must be used at your own risk.
***Any and all references to “fishing” should be understood in the context of Global Fishing Watch’s fishing detection algorithm, which is a best effort to determine “apparent fishing effort” based on vessel speed and direction data from the automatic identification system (AIS) collected via satellites and terrestrial receivers. As AIS data varies in completeness, accuracy, and quality, it is possible that some fishing effort is not identified and conversely, that some fishing effort identified is not fishing. For these reasons, Global Fishing Watch qualifies all designations of vessel fishing effort, including synonyms of the term “fishing effort,” such as “fishing” or “fishing activity,” as “apparent,” rather than certain. Any and all Global Fishing Watch information about “apparent fishing effort” should be considered an estimate and must be used at your own risk. Global Fishing Watch is taking steps to make sure fishing effort designations are as accurate as possible.
****The EEZ boundaries on the IUU Vessel Tracker map were downloaded from MarineRegions.org: Flanders Marine Institute (2019). Maritime Boundaries Geodatabase: Maritime Boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones (200NM), version 11. Available online at https://www.marineregions.org/. https://doi.org/10.14284/386
†Global Fishing Watch, a provider of open data for use in this project, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. The views and opinions expressed in this project are those of the authors, which are not connected with or sponsored, endorsed or granted official status by Global Fishing Watch. By creating and publicly sharing map visualizations, data and analysis tools, Global Fishing Watch aims to enable scientific research and transform the way our ocean is managed.