Mapping Fishing Activities (MFA)
The increasing availability of tracking data from the Automatic
Identification System (AIS) allows for studying the relations between fishing coastal communities and
grounds at an unprecedented level of detail, with respect to the more aggregated figures on fishing effort
derived from logbooks and assembled through the Data Collection Framework at EU level.
In this project JRC analyzed a large AIS dataset covering one year of activity of the EU fishing vessels
15 meters of length. With this data JRC produced the first high-resolution map of fishing intensity
all EU waters and examined the gravitation between ports and the dependencies of coastal communities
From a socio-economic perspective representing and quantifying where vessels tend to gravitate in ports and
their dependencies on the seaside is important to study the performance of fisheries at regional and local
level. Other policy support applications include the assessment of impacts on the fishing sector from the
establishments of Marine Protected Areas and Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries, and the quantification of
indicators of the pressure on the marine environment and the sea floor, as foreseen by Descriptor 6 of
the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
The GIS tool presented here is primarily addressed to researchers and policy makers. It allows one to
great detail the intensity of fishing activity over all EU waters. After selection of a high intensity
area the tool shows the fishing coastal communities that relate to that area.
Note that for confidentiality reasons, all information is aggregated from individual vessels to the level of
and figures of dependency are presented only for ports with more than five vessels in the AIS data set.
Access the tool
The tool is available here
Data and methods
The data analysed in this study consists of around 150 million positions reports from EU fishing vessels
15 m of length, operating in FAO areas 27, 34 and 37, in the period between September 2014 and September
2015. Each AIS message provides the position of the vessel, its speed and a timestamp, at intervals of five
minutes. These messages were classified as either related to fishing or to steaming through a classification
algorithm based on the analysis of individual vessels’ speed profiles. This classification approach proved
to be sufficiently robust in the case of trawlers, that represent the majority of vessels above 15 m of
length. The total number of messages from trawlers classified as fishing was around 60 million.
A first layer in the GIS tool presents the frequency of these messages in a grid with a resolution of 1 by 1
km. From this layer, high intensity fishing areas were defined as those including cells with a frequency of
messages above the upper quartile of the frequency distribution in each FAO subdivision.
The intensity of the relations between coastal communities and these areas was calculated on the basis of the
number of messages falling in their respective boundaries. Similarly the main center of gravitation of the
vessels on land and the relations between ports were calculated looking at the number of messages in the
surroundings of the ports.
In the GIS tool additional information is provided for each port, namely, the total number of vessels
from the fleet register, the estimated employment and Gross Value Added (GVA) and the coverage in terms of
the number of fishing
vessels for which AIS data was available.
A final layer included in the GIS tool presents the level of coverage of the AIS signal in EU waters. The
level of coverage was calculated considering the ratio between received and expected tracks of merchant
vessels. Contrary to fishing vessels, merchant vessels follow specific routes that can be derived even
with incomplete tracks. The coverage map tells where the information is expected to be complete, and
therefore where the information is more reliable.
More information on the methods and data used can be found in the listed references.
The fishing intensity raster and polygons are available for download at
JRC Data Catalogue
Acknowledgments and references
The authors would like to thank MSSIS, courtesy of the Volpe Center of the U.S. Department of Transportation
and the U.S. Navy, and MarineTraffic for providing the AIS data used in this study.
A detailed description of the methodologies was published in the papers below.
- Mazzarella, F., Vespe M., Damalas D., Osio G., ‘Discovering vessel activities at sea using AIS data:
mapping of fishing footprints’, 17th Int. Conf. on Information Fusion (FUSION), 2014.
- Natale F., Gibin M., Alessandrini A., Vespe M., Paulrud A., ‘Mapping Fishing Effort through AIS Data’,
PLoS ONE 10(6): e0130746. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130746, 2015.
- Vespe M., Greidanus H., Santamaria C., Barbas T., ‘Knowledge Discovery of Human Activities at Sea in
the Arctic using Remote Sensing and Vessel Tracking Systems’, ShipArc Proceedings, 2015.
- Natale F., Gibin M., Alessandrini A., Vespe M., Osio G., ‘Spatial relations between coastal
communities, fishing grounds and markets’, paper currently under revision, 2015.
- Vespe M., Gibin M., Alessandrini A., Natale F. Mazzarella F., Osio G., ‘Mapping EU fishing activities
using ship tracking data’, paper currently under revision, 2015.