Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing

In the context of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its overall objective of sustainable fisheries, the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in world fisheries is of serious and increasing concern. IUU fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks in all capture fisheries. When confronted with IUU fishing, national and regional fisheries management organizations can fail to achieve management goals. This situation leads to the loss of both short and long-term social and economic opportunities and to negative effects on food security and environmental protection. IUU fishing can lead to the collapse of a fishery or seriously impair efforts to rebuild stocks that have already been depleted. Existing international instruments addressing IUU fishing have not been effective due to a lack of political will, priority, capacity and resources to ratify or accede to and implement them.

IUU fishing is not a new phenomenon in capture fisheries nor is it confined to high seas fisheries. It also occurs in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal States by national and foreign vessels and in river and inland fisheries. However, in marine fisheries, while it is difficult to estimate precisely the total IUU catch in tonnage or value terms, the level of IUU fishing has reached major proportions for some species. These catches, in many cases, are being made by both authorized and non-authorized fishers; that is, the catches are not being taken only by vessels operating under 'flags of non-compliance' (FOC).

The root cause of IUU fishing is a lack of effective flag State control. In a perfect world where there is full and effective flag State control the incidence of IUU fishing would be greatly reduced. However, the world is not perfect and some States, after authorizing vessels to fly their flags, fail to meet their obligations under international law with respect to the supervision and control of these vessels. Furthermore, some States do not provide proper authorizations for their vessels to fish once they assume the State's flag. This lack of supervision and authorization to fish enables such vessels to engage in IUU fishing with impunity.

IUU fishing undermines national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks and, as a consequence, inhibits progress towards achieving the goals of long-term sustainability and responsibility as set forth in, inter alia, Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Moreover, IUU fishing greatly disadvantages and discriminates against those fishers that act responsibly, honestly and in accordance with the terms of their fishing authorizations. This is a compelling reason why IUU fishing must be dealt with expeditiously and in a transparent manner. If IUU fishing is not curbed, and if IUU fishers target vulnerable stocks that are subject to strict management controls or moratoria, efforts to rebuild those stocks to healthy levels will not be achieved.

a. Illegal fishing means fishing activities:

  • Conducted by national or foreign fishing vessels in maritime waters under the jurisdiction of a state, without the permission of that state, or in contravention of its laws and regulations;
  • Conducted by fishing vessels flying the flag of sates that are contracting parties to a relevant regional fisheries management organization but which operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures adopted by the organization and by which those states are bound, or of relevant provisions of the applicable international law; or
  • Conducted by fishing vessels in violation of national laws or international obligation, including those undertaken by cooperating states to a relevant regional fisheries management organization.
b. Unreported fishing means fishing activities:

  • Which have not been reported, or have been misreported to the relevant national authority in contravention of national laws and regulations; or
  • Which have been undertaken in the area of competence of a relevant regional fisheries management organization and have not been reported, or have been misreported in contravention of the reporting procedures of that organization.
c. Unregulated fishing means fishing activities:

  • Conducted in the area of application of a relevant regional fisheries management organization by fishing vessels without nationality, by fishing vessels flying the flag of a state not party to that organization or by any other fishing entity, in a manner that is not consistent with or contravenes the conservation and management measures of that organization; or
  • Conducted in areas or for fish stocks in relation to which there are no applicable conservation or management measures by fishing vessels in a manner that is not consistent with state responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.