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Carrying out an effective control of fishing activities is essential to guarantee a sustainable exploitation of sea resources. Nevertheless, as the regulated areas are extended, they are difficult and time consuming to monitor by means of traditional reconnaissance methods such as planes and patrol vessels. On the contrary, satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) provides a powerful surveillance capability allowing the observation of broad expanses, independently from weather effects and from the day and night cycle. Unfortunately, the automatic interpretation of SAR images is often complicated, even though undetected targets are sometimes visible by eye. Attending to these particular circumstances, a novel approach for ship detection is proposed based on the analysis of SAR images by means of the discrete wavelet transform. The exposed method takes advantage of the difference of statistical behavior among the ships and the surrounding sea, interpreting the information through the wavelet coefficients in order to provide a more reliable detection. The analysis of the detection performance over both simulated and real images confirms the robustness of the proposed algorithm.