Nowadays, there is a growing interest in applications of space remote sensing systems for maritime surveillance which includes among others traffic surveillance, maritime security, illegal fisheries survey, oil discharge and sea pollution monitoring. Within the framework of several French and European projects, an algorithm for automatic ship detection from SPOT-5 HRG data was developed to complement existing fishery control measures, in particular the Vessel Monitoring System. The algorithm focused on feature-based analysis of satellite imagery. Genetic algorithms and Neural Networks were used to deal with the feature-borne information. Based on the described approach, a first prototype was designed to classify small targets such as shrimp boats and tested on panchromatic SPOT-5, 5-m resolution product taking into account the environmental and fishing context. The ability to detect shrimp boats with satisfactory detection rates is an indicator of the robustness of the algorithm. Still, the benchmark revealed problems related to increased false alarm rates on particular types of images with a high percentage of cloud cover and a sea cluttered background.