Fisheries in waters beyond national jurisdiction (“high seas”) are difficult to monitor and manage. Their regulation for sustainability requires critical information on how fishing effort is distributed across fishing and landing areas, including possible border effects at the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) limits. We infer the global network linking harbors supporting fishing vessels to fishing areas in high seas from automatic identification system tracking data in 2014, observing a modular structure, with vessels departing from a given harbor fishing mostly in a single province. The top 16% of these harbors support 84% of fishing effort in high seas, with harbors in low- and middle-income countries ranked among the top supporters. Fishing effort concentrates along narrow strips attached to the boundaries of EEZs with productive fisheries, identifying a free-riding behavior that jeopardizes efforts by nations to sustainably manage their fisheries, perpetuating the tragedy of the commons affecting global fishery resources.