Oceana Puts IUU-Listed Vessels on The Map

New Tool, IUU Vessel Tracker, Displays Locations of Illegal Vessels

Washington, June 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, Oceana launched a new tool that tracks illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU)-listed vessels. Using Global Fishing Watch* data, Oceana’s IUU Vessel Tracker** displays the movements of vessels currently IUU-listed*** by regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs). The Norway-based nonprofit organization Trygg Mat Tracking actively compiles RFMO lists on the Combined IUU Vessel List, providing up-to-date information on IUU-listed vessels. Currently there are 168 vessels listed across 12 management organizations that oversee fishing on the high seas. Oceana’s IUU Vessel Tracker is currently only displaying two vessels that are broadcasting their locations using their automatic identification system (AIS) devices, which is why governments must require fishing vessels to continuously broadcast their AIS signals to increase transparency and accountability at sea. The map shows apparent fishing† and transit activities of vessels over a one-month period of time.

IUU Vessel Tracker puts IUU-listed vessels on a map so anyone around the world can track their activities in near real time. These vessels are now on notice — we are watching them. To increase the number of vessels visible on this map, governments should mandate AIS for all fishing vessels so they can be monitored and held accountable for their actions at sea,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns. “Transparency of fishing is a game changer in the fight against IUU fishing, which pillages our oceans, stealing fish from the nets of lawful fishermen. The United States must embrace transparency at home so we can demand transparency from fishing vessels operating around the world.”



IUU fishing poses one of the greatest threats to the 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 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 potential illegal behavior. Requiring more transparency in fishing can help remove the veil of secrecy on the high seas.

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.


About Oceana’s IUU Vessel Tracker

Oceana’s IUU Vessel Tracker allows users to monitor vessels currently listed by RFMOs due to their involvement in IUU fishing. The tool uses automatic identification system (AIS) data from Global Fishing Watch, an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and SkyTruth, displaying vessel names, locations, and fishing activity†.  

To access Oceana’s IUU Vessel Tracker, please visit usa.oceana.org/IUUVesselTracker.

To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to stop illegal fishing and increase transparency at sea, please click here.


*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.

**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 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 de-listing decisions by RFMOs, vessels that have been cross-listed may remain listed on the cross-listing RFMO despite being de-listed from the original listing RFMO. For these reasons, any/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/all Global Fishing Watch information about “apparent fishing effort” should be considered an estimate and must be used your own risk. Global Fishing Watch is taking steps to make sure fishing effort designations are as accurate as possible.


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit USA.Oceana.org to learn more.


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