Hot spots of unseen fishing vessels

Sci Adv. 2022 Nov 4;8(44):eabq2109. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abq2109. Epub 2022 Nov 2.


Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing incurs an annual cost of up to US$25 billion in economic losses, results in substantial losses of aquatic life, and has been linked to human rights violations. Vessel tracking data from the automatic identification system (AIS) are powerful tools for combating IUU, yet AIS transponders can be disabled, reducing its efficacy as a surveillance tool. We present a global dataset of AIS disabling in commercial fisheries, which obscures up to 6% (>4.9 M hours) of vessel activity. Disabling hot spots were located near the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Argentina and West African nations and in the Northwest Pacific, all regions of IUU concern. Disabling was highest near transshipment hot spots and near EEZ boundaries, particularly contested ones. We also found links between disabling and location hiding from competitors and pirates. These inferences on where and why activities are obscured provide valuable information to improve fisheries management.