Understanding the distribution of fishing activity is fundamental to quantifying its impact on the seabed. Vessel monitoring system (VMS) data provides a means to understand the footprint (extent and intensity) of fishing activity. Automatic Identification System (AIS) data could offer a higher resolution alternative to VMS data, but differences in coverage and interpretation need to be better understood. VMS and AIS data were compared for individual scallop fishing vessels. There were substantial gaps in the AIS data coverage; AIS data only captured 26% of the time spent fishing compared to VMS data. The amount of missing data varied substantially between vessels (45–99% of each individuals' AIS data were missing). A cubic Hermite spline interpolation of VMS data provided the greatest similarity between VMS and AIS data. But the scale at which the data were analysed (size of the grid cells) had the greatest influence on estimates of fishing footprints. The present gaps in coverage of AIS may make it inappropriate for absolute estimates of fishing activity. VMS already provides a means of collecting more complete fishing position data, shielded from public view. Hence, there is an incentive to increase the VMS poll frequency to calculate more accurate fishing footprints.