Spain Sanctions Vessels for Disabling Tracking Devices Following Eye-Opening Oceana Report | Oceana

Spain Sanctions Vessels for Disabling Tracking Devices Following Eye-Opening Oceana Report

Oceana’s report showing vessels disappearing near Argentina’s waters resulted in investigations and subsequent fines against 25 Spanish vessels

Press Release Date: December 14, 2023

Location: Washington, DC


Megan Jordan | email:
Megan Jordan

Based on a 2021 Oceana analysis, the Spanish government has investigated and sanctioned 25 Spanish-flagged vessels for infractions while fishing** on the high seas. These fishing vessels were fined up to $65,000 (60,000 euros) for repeatedly turning off their public tracking devices — called Automatic Identification System (AIS) — on multiple occasions without cause, which is illegal for Spanish-flagged fishing vessels. The sanctioned vessels were apparently fishing** near Argentinian waters between 2018 and 2021. Around 90% of the Spanish-flagged vessels cited in Oceana’s analysis appeared to turn off their public tracking devices at least once, and Spanish-flagged vessels spent nearly twice as much time with AIS devices off as they did visibly fishing.

“Oceana applauds this admirable step taken by the Spanish government to take action against vessels that openly flout the rules as if they are above the law,” said Oceana Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine. “Mandating and enforcing the use of AIS devices is crucial to increase the transparency of fishing at sea.”

These sanctions are a direct result of Oceana’s analysis, which was shared with the Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping and highlighted ships navigating with their AIS devices allegedly turned off.

Oceana analyzed the activity of fishing vessels along the border of Argentina’s national waters from January 1, 2018, to April 25, 2021, using data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW),* an independent nonprofit founded by Oceana in partnership with Google and SkyTruth. AIS devices transmit information such as a vessel’s name, flag state, and location.

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

While turning off AIS devices without legitimate security concerns is illegal in places like the European Union, few countries have AIS requirements like Spain and rarely take action against fishing vessels for this violation. Oceana urges the rest of identified countries in its analysis to require Automatic Identification Systems to ensure the safety of fishers on board and expand transparency in fishing.

Any fishing vessel flagged to a European Union (EU) country that is greater than 49 feet (15 meters) 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. AIS devices, which share position data with nearby ships, are important to prevent vessel collisions and promote transparency of fishing operations. These sanctioned vessels repeatedly turned off their AIS without legitimate reasons more than 1,200 times for a total period of at least 24 hours. In contrast to the EU, the United States only mandates AIS usage for fishing boats longer than 65 feet (20 meters) — which make up only 12.4% of the U.S.’s fishing fleet. This small portion of ships is only required to have AIS turned on within 12 nautical miles of shore, an area that covers less than 8% of the country’s exclusive economic zone, with no AIS requirements while operating on the high seas.

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

*Global Fishing Watch (GFW), a provider of open data for use in this article, 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 article are those of the authors, which are not connected with or sponsored, endorsed or granted official status by GFW. By creating and publicly sharing map visualizations, data, and analysis tools, GFW aims to enable scientific research and transform the way our ocean is managed.

**Any and all references to “fishing” should be understood in the context of Global Fishing Watch’s (GFW) 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, and the fishing detection algorithm is a statistical estimate of apparent fishing activity, it is possible that some fishing effort is not identified and, conversely, that some fishing effort identified is not fishing. For these reasons, GFW 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 GFW information about “apparent fishing effort” should be considered an estimate and must be relied upon solely at your own risk. GFW 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-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, 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 to learn more.