How to use this database

Which vessels can I find in WhoFishesFar?

This database includes vessels operating under EU’s Fishing Authorisation Regulation (FAR), that is, EU vessels fishing in third-country waters and international waters; and third-country vessels fishing in EU waters, for example, EU vessels operating in Norway or Faroe Islands, or Venezuela-flagged vessels fishing in EU waters in French Guyana.

What is the source of the information included in WhoFishesFAR?

The access to information request made to the European Commission asked for:

  • “The list of European flagged vessels and third-country flagged vessels that were granted an authorisation of any kind from 2008 to 2015 under the Fishing Authorisation Regulation EC 1006 / 2008[i]. We request the following information to be included: the vessel name, the time period of the authorisation, the type of fishing authorisation (under an SFPA, private agreement, chartering agreement, access to EU waters or other), the CFR (unique EU vessel identifier), the IMO number (unique global vessel identifier set up by the International Maritime Organization) and the International Radio Call Sign (IRCS).
  • A list of EU nationals and vessels flagged to any Member State engaged in private agreements with third countries since 2008”.

The data provided by the European Commission also includes authorisations from 2006 to 2020 amounting to 23,239 unique vessels – of which 22,094 unique EU vessels and 1,154 unique non-EU vessels.

Should I check vessels by name or CFR?

A fishing vessel may change its name several times during its fishing history under the EU or another countries’ flag. This single fact makes the “name” an unreliable parameter to follow up on a fishing vessel’s history. All EU vessels in the database should have a Community Fleet Register (CFR) number, a unique vessel identifier which is permanently assigned to an EU vessel and cannot be reassigned to another. However, some vessels in the datasheet we were provided do not have a CFR, evidence of information gaps.

CFR numbers are for EU vessels only. The number is not used outside the EU, but it is preserved if the vessel comes back to an EU Member State flag. When a vessel that was previously in the EU register wants to re-enter the EU flag, the historic CFR code should be used. However, in certain cases new CFR numbers were generated for vessels that were previously in the EU register.

Why are IMO numbers not included in the database?

A global system of vessel numbering has been set up by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).This number stays with the vessel throughout its life, and is not changed or deleted upon changes of ownership. This system provides a centralised, consistent and accessible method for identifying vessels. However, IMO numbers are currently not mandatory for fishing vessels or for FAR authorisation. This database, therefore, does not include the IMO numbers.

We are asking the EU to mandate that EU vessels have a unique vessel identifier (IMO) in order to increase transparency and to facilitate enquiries into the historic behaviour of a vessel.

How can a vessel access distant fishing grounds?

The FAR authorises different types of access: Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs)[ii], reciprocal agreements, authorisations for EU vessels to operate within a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) agreement area, authorisations for EU vessels to operate on the high seas, and private and chartering agreements. WhoFishesFAR also includes authorisations of non-EU vessels accessing EU waters under agreements between third countries and the EU.

Can I see the agreements made between EU companies and the governments of non-EU countries in WhoFishesFAR?

EU companies undertake private agreements with certain countries that grant them access to fish resources in the waters of these coastal states. This is only allowed when there are no SFPAs in place in these waters. In addition, EU companies make chartering agreements for their EU vessels to access the resources of certain coastal states in collaboration with local companies.

The European Commission acknowledges that it has no information about these agreements and that there is no EU wide database of information. Access to information requests conducted at a national level in all EU Member States about private and chartering agreements under FAR authorisations show that few Member States are aware of them. This makes it impossible for the EC and other stakeholders to fully understand the activities carried out by these vessels.

Even though the vessels benefitting from these agreements fly EU flags or are operated by EU nationals, the EU has not established procedures to ensure that these arrangements comply with EU fisheries laws, respect labour laws, or to guarantee the EU operator that the authorisation they have bought is valid. This lack of transparency is a significant loophole in the control over the external fleet, since nobody has the full overview of its size or impact on fish stocks in third-country waters.

How relevant is the EU external fleet?

WhoFishesFAR includes 22,085 EU vessels operated in third-country waters or on the high seas from 2008 to 2015. It also includes 1,154 non-EU vessels flagged to Faroe Islands, Norway, Venezuela and Seychelles that were operating in EU waters. It is the first time that that this figure is made public, unveiling the unprecedented figure of 3,816 EU vessels that annually fish outside EU waters. The information, obtained under an access to information request to the European Commission, provides a sharp contrast with the amount of 718 vessels that was commonly considered as the size of EU’s distant fleet (However, the 2007 figure looked at vessels that operated more than 90% of the time outside EU waters)[iv].

Please note that the size of the external fleet varies from one year to another, which can depend on the SFPAs that the EU manages to negotiate or the interest of the fishing fleet to operate under FAR authorisations, for example. You can check for changes in SFPA agreements here.

How much does the EU invest in its external fleet?

Information on EU access payments under SFPAs can be found on the DG MARE website. Total figures paid per SFPA can be accessed here as well as the number of authorisations per Member State.

Does WhoFishesFAR provide real time data?

No, WhoFishesFAR only provides information on fishing authorisations. These authorisations are often given for a year. The fishing vessel or operator can decide themselves in which period to use the fishing authorization.

How many vessels are fishing in the world’s oceans?

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have lists of all fishing vessels that are authorised to operate in their convention areas, such as International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas ICCAT. However the RFMO authorisations for WhoFishesFAR provided by the European Commission are incomplete. For example, the data suggests that Bulgarian vessels operate under the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), whereas there are many more countries active there

Some RFMOs regulate highly migratory species and include waters that belong to EU countries. To target these highly migratory species managed by such an RFMO, for example ICCAT, a FAR authorization is needed. This is why, for example, thousands of Italian vessels are included under the FAR because they are on the list of the vessels authorized to operate in the ICCAT convention area.

The European Commission has provided this information via an access to information request. Other countries may be more transparent or not at all. In order to more sustainably manage ocean resources and prevent unreported fishing, a similar level of transparency from all countries in the world would be necessary. This would be the first step towards sustainable operations, avoiding unreported catches and identifying illegal activities.


[i] Council Regulation (EC) No 1006/2008, of 29 September 2008, concerning authorisations for fishing activities of Community fishing vessels outside Community waters and the access of third-country vessels to Community waters, amending Regulation (EEC) No 2847/93 and (EC) No 1627/94 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 3317/94.

[ii] Fisheries Partnership Agreement became Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements after the reform of the Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy.

[iii] III Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy.

[iv] Study on the European External Fleet Contract FISH/2006/02, Final Report, January 2008.