Spain sanctions 25 fishing vessels for disabling tracking devices following Oceana investigation

Press Release Date: December 14, 2023

Location: Madrid


Irene Campmany | email: | tel.: +34 682 622 245

Oceana’s report shows that sanctioned vessels repeatedly switched off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) while fishing

The Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping has issued fines of up to €60,000 per vessel following a review of Oceana’s investigation

The Spanish government has sanctioned 25 Spanish-flagged fishing vessels for turning off their tracking devices while fishing off the coast of Argentina. The measure is directly based on an Oceana analysis that the organisation shared with both the Spanish Secretary-General for Fisheries and its Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping. The report shows how these vessels repeatedly turned off their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) while fishing. The AIS shares vessel location data1 and is mandatory in Spain and the European Union to promote transparency in fishing activity and ensure safety at sea. Despite this rule, few EU countries have imposed sanctions for these types of violations.

“We welcome the decision of the Spanish administration to take another step in favour of transparency in the fishing sector”, said the 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 fishers, for states to know what is happening in their waters, and to ensure that fishing activities are carried out within the law”.

According to Oceana’s analysis, 90% of the 30 Spanish vessels flagged between 2018 and 2021 had deactivated their AIS and spent twice as much time with the device switched off than on. Some of the penalties Spain has now imposed run up to €60,000.

Over the course of the investigation, the organisation analysed the activity of fishing vessels along the border of Argentina’s national waters using data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW)2, an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and SkyTruth.

Oceana urges the rest of identified countries in its analysis, including China, South Korea and Taiwan, to enforce existing rules, prioritise transparency in the fishing sector and ensure the safety of fishers on board.

The Spanish vessels sanctioned repeatedly turned off their AIS without legitimate reasons more than 1.200 times during at least 24 hours. According to Oceana, this should not only constitute an offence against maritime safety but should also be subject to fines by fisheries authorities, particularly under the new Fisheries Control Regulation. This regulation, which enters into force in January 2024, will require all vessels to notify the competent authorities in advance of any AIS switch-off.

Any fishing vessel flagged to an EU country that is greater than 15 metres 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.

Notes to the editor:

  • Administrative response from the Spanish authorities to Oceana’s request for access to information available here.
  • Sanctions imposed on Spanish vessels are available here.


1 AIS: What is it? Oceana, 2022

2Global Fishing Watch (GFW), the provider of open data for use in this article, is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, who are not affiliated with GFW and are not sponsored, endorsed, or granted official status by the organisation. By creating and publicly sharing map visualisations, data and analysis tools, GFW aims to enable scientific research and drive a transformation in how our oceans are managed.

**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 activity” 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 activity is not identified and conversely, that some fishing activity identified is not fishing. For these reasons, Global Fishing Watch qualifies all designations of vessel fishing activity, including synonyms of the term “fishing activity,” such as “fishing” or “fishing effort,” as “apparent,” rather than certain. Any/all Global Fishing Watch information about “apparent fishing activity” should be considered an estimate and must be relied upon solely at your own risk. Global Fishing Watch is taking steps to make sure fishing activity designations are as accurate as possible.