Illegal and unreported fishing contributes to overexploitation of fish stocks and is a hindrance to the recovery of fish populations and ecosystems. This study is the first to undertake a world-wide analysis of illegal and unreported fishing. Reviewing the situation in 54 countries and on the high seas, we estimate that lower and upper estimates of the total value of current illegal and unreported fishing losses worldwide are between $10 bn and $23.5 bn annually, representing between 11 and 26 million tonnes. Our data are of sufficient resolution to detect regional differences in the level and trend of illegal fishing over the last 20 years, and we can report a significant correlation between governance and the level of illegal fishing. Developing countries are most at risk from illegal fishing, with total estimated catches in West Africa being 40% higher than reported catches. Such levels of exploitation severely hamper the sustainable management of marine ecosystems. Although there have been some successes in reducing the level of illegal fishing in some areas, these developments are relatively recent and follow growing international focus on the problem. This paper provides the baseline against which successful action to curb illegal fishing can be judged.