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Map of the week – Fishing vessel density

As it is an important source of protein and a crucial component of a healthy diet, fish is one of the all-time favourite dishes of Europeans. Unfortunately, decades of overfishing have decimated natural fish populations and fish is no longer an abundant resource. In order to protect and maintain fish stocks and the marine environment, as well as the fishermen and consumers that depend on them, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) sets sustainable catch limitations. In some European marine regions, this sustainable fisheries management approach has shown clear signs of fish stock recovery[1]. Sadly, these efforts are being undermined by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.

Globally, IUU fishing practices accounts for an estimated €10 billion in revenue, making up 19% of the reported value of catches[2]. As such, IUU fishing depletes natural fish stocks, destroys marine habitats and biodiversity, puts honest fishers at an unfair disadvantage, and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries2. For the last 10 years, EU regulation has been in place to prevent and deter IUU fishing practices by establishing community control systems to ensure CFP rules are followed, by only allowing import and export of validated legal fisheries products, by keeping an IUU vessel list and penalizing EU operators that engage in IUU fishing anywhere in the world and by taking steps against states that turn a blind eye to illegal fishing activities2. For these efforts to succeed, monitoring of fishing activities and products is key.

Several new technologies have the potential to improve the monitoring and combat IUU fishing practices. In May 2019, the CATCH IT system was launched to digitalise the EU catch certification that validates fisheries products are legal. Another promising technology to improve fisheries monitoring, is the use of satellites to gather the position of vessels from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) messages they send out and apply algorithms to detect if these ships are engaged in fishing activities. The map of the week shows the density of fishing vessels (expressed as hours spent by fishing ships in a square km over a month) in European waters derived using this technology. The map was created using a novel big data analysis workflow developed by EMODnet Human Activities.


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The data in this map were provided by EMODnet Human Activities.

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