Tracking elusive and shifting identities of the global fishing fleet.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing costs billions of dollars per year and is enabled by vessels obfuscating their identity. Here, we combine identities of ~35,000 vessels with a decade of GPS data to provide a global assessment of fishing compliance, reflagging patterns, and fishing by foreign-owned vessels. About 17% of high seas fishing is by potentially unauthorized or internationally unregulated vessels, with hot spots of this activity in the west Indian and the southwest Atlantic Oceans. In addition, reflagging, a tactic often used to obscure oversight, occurs in just a few ports primarily by fleets with high foreign ownership. Fishing by foreign-owned vessels is concentrated in parts of high seas and certain national waters, often flying flags of convenience. These findings can address the global scope of potential IUU fishing and enable authorities to improve oversight.