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Small‐scale fisheries contribute substantially to the sustainability of coastal communities by providing livelihood and economic opportunities and ensuring food security. However, their geographic range of operation overlaps with that of industrial fisheries, increasing the resource competition, risk of vessel collision and inter‐sector conflicts, while jeopardizing the sustainability of fish stocks. When industrial vessels venture into waters that are reserved to artisanal fisheries, their operations become illegal. In Africa, the extent of such operations, beyond their legal implications, has resulted in severe economic, food security, and maritime safety issues. In this paper, we use automatic identification system data derived from satellite technology to predict fishing operations and find that industrial fleets spend 3%–6% of their time fishing within inshore areas reserved for small‐scale fisheries between 2012 and 2016, of the total 4.2 million industrial fishing hours within the Exclusive Economic Zones of African countries. We assessed the total fishing effort by this form of illegal fishing operations at 166 million kWhours at least out of 4.9 billion kWhours in total. We discuss this dangerous form of illegal fishing, which often results in deadly collisions with small‐scale sector operators, increases competition and conflicts over fisheries access, threatens the sustainability of fish stocks, and calls for better governance, and protection.