Roughly 75% of Industrial Fishing is Currently Undisclosed - Oceana USA

Roughly 75% of Industrial Fishing is Currently Undisclosed

Governments must require public vessel tracking to sustainably manage wild ocean fisheries

Press Release Date: January 3, 2024

Location: Washington, D.C.


Dustin Cranor, APR, Megan Jordan | email:, | tel: 954.348.1314, 202.868.4061

A new study published in the scientific journal Nature today finds that roughly 75% of industrial fishing is currently undetectable by authorities. Researchers at Global Fishing Watch used high-tech radar data from the European Space Agency to observe all at-sea vessels during a five-year period from 2017 to 2021. This information was then compared to public vessel tracking data and researchers used a model to predict which vessels were fishing to identify the “dark fleet.”    

“Vessel tracking has come a long way in a short time, but there is still more to do,” said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. “If you’re fishing on the ocean, you’re fishing on a public resource, and you should be required to prove that you are doing so legally. If the industrial fleets of the world knew they were being watched everywhere they went, all the time, by everyone in the world, they would break fewer laws. Governments must make sure their vessels are trackable so they can be held accountable.”

Following the launch of Global Fishing Watch’s flagship map in 2016, which provided the first global view of commercial fishing activity, Oceana and its allies have worked with many governments around the world to increase transparency of their commercial fishing fleets. For example, last July, following the guidance of Oceana, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council agreed to a new law requiring all EU registered fishing vessels, including 49,000 small-scale vessels, to use tracking systems by 2030. The Philippines is also requiring all its commercial fishing vessels to install devices that track location, speed, and catch. Peru, Chile, and Belize have also made their national vessel tracking data publicly available on the Global Fishing Watch map. 

“Governments can’t manage what they can’t see,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Chief Policy Officer at Oceana. “The type of deterrence created by cameras on our highways would be achieved on our oceans if governments would simply mandate that all vessels be publicly trackable. This is eminently achievable and urgent if we hope to maintain and improve fishery abundance. Fishing responsibly can increase the abundance and health of fish populations, but without transparency, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing will continue to undermine efforts to manage fisheries.”  


The world’s oceans face a dire threat: illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Across the globe, IUU fishing depletes marine resources, destroys sensitive habitats, and is explicitly linked to forced labor and human rights abuses. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities not only contribute to overfishing and threaten global food security, but also give bad actors an unfair advantage over honest fishers that play by the rules. 

There are more than 440,000 industrial fishing vessels around the world that are responsible for 72% of the world’s ocean catch. Unfortunately, it can often be difficult, if not impossible, to monitor their activities. That’s why Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google partnered to create Global Fishing Watch, which allows anyone in the world to monitor and track the largest industrial fishing vessels in near-real time, for free. Today, around 80,000 vessels – about 20% of the world’s industrial fishing fleet – can be tracked on the Global Fishing Watch map. 

Both Andrew Sharpless and Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana are founders and members of the Board of Directors of Global Fishing Watch.