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