Spain Sanctions Vessels for Disabling Tracking Devices Following Eye-Opening Oceana Report    - Oceana USA

Spain Sanctions Vessels for Disabling Tracking Devices Following Eye-Opening Oceana Report   

Oceana’s report showing vessels disappearing near Argentina’s waters resulted in investigations and subsequent fines against 25 Spanish vessels

Press Release Date: December 14, 2023

Location: Washington, D.C.


Cory Gunkel, Megan Jordan | email:, | tel: Cory Gunkel, 202.868.4061

Based on a 2021 Oceana analysis, the Spanish government has investigated and sanctioned 25 Spanish-flagged vessels for infractions while fishing** on the high seas. These fishing vessels were fined up to $65,000 (60,000 euros) for repeatedly turning off their public tracking devices — called Automatic Identification System (AIS) — on multiple occasions without cause, which is illegal for Spanish-flagged fishing vessels. The sanctioned vessels were apparently fishing near Argentinian waters between 2018 and 2021. Around 90% of the Spanish-flagged vessels cited in Oceana’s analysis appeared to turn off their public tracking devices at least once, and Spanish-flagged vessels spent nearly twice as much time with AIS devices off as they did visibly fishing.   

“Oceana applauds this admirable step taken by the Spanish government to take action against vessels that openly flout the rules as if they are above the law,” said Oceana Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine. “Mandating and enforcing the use of AIS devices is crucial to increase the transparency of fishing at sea.” 

These sanctions are a direct result of Oceana’s analysis, which was shared with the Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping and highlighted ships navigating with their AIS devices allegedly turned off.  

Oceana analyzed the activity of fishing vessels along the border of Argentina’s national waters from January 1, 2018, to April 25, 2021, using data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW),* an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and SkyTruth. AIS devices transmit information such as a vessel’s name, flag state, and location.  

“We welcome the decision of the Spanish administration to take another step in favor of transparency in the fishing sector,” said advisor of Oceana’s illegal fishing and transparency campaign in Europe, Ignacio Fresco Vanzini. “Those who do not respect the rules should know that their actions have consequences, and in this case, it is in the form of sanctions. The use of Automatic Identification Systems is key to the safety of fishermen, for states to know what is happening in their waters, and to ensure that fishing activities are carried out within the law.” 

While turning off AIS devices without legitimate security concerns is illegal in places like the European Union, few countries have AIS requirements like Spain and rarely take action against fishing vessels for this violation. Oceana urges the rest of identified countries in its analysis to require Automatic Identification Systems to ensure the safety of fishers on board and expand transparency in fishing.  

Any fishing vessel flagged to a European Union (EU) country that is greater than 49 feet (15 meters) in length must be equipped with an AIS device that transmits the location, direction, and speed of the vessel at sea. Navigating without AIS is considered an infringement of EU and Spanish law, as vessels are only allowed to legitimately turn off AIS in exceptional situations and while following certain rules, like when navigating in areas where piracy could be a problem. AIS devices, which share position data with nearby ships, are important to prevent vessel collisions and promote transparency of fishing operations. These sanctioned vessels repeatedly turned off their AIS without legitimate reasons more than 1,200 times for a total period of at least 24 hours. In contrast to the EU, the United States only mandates AIS usage for fishing boats longer than 65 feet (20 meters) — which make up only 12.4% of the U.S.’s fishing fleet. This small portion of ships is only required to have AIS turned on within 12 nautical miles of shore, an area that covers less than 8% of the country’s exclusive economic zone, with no AIS requirements while operating on the high seas.  

To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to increase transparency at sea, please click here