Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major contributor to declining fish stocks and marine habitat destruction. Globally, IUU fishing takes many forms both within nationally-controlled waters and on the high seas. While it is not known for sure how much IUU fishing is taking place, it is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for about 30 per cent of all fishing activity worldwide.

Plane and CCG boat

The worldwide value of IUU catches is somewhere between $4 billion and $9 billion per year. Approximately $1.25 billion of this illegally captured fish is thought to be taken from the high seas, with the remainder fished illegally within 200-mile limits of coastal states. Illegal fishing is most prevalent where governance measures to manage fisheries are the weakest, which explains why developing countries are the hardest hit by IUU fishing. An estimated $1 billion in IUU fishing is happening in the coastal waters of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Strong governance of the high seas through regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) is integral to reducing illegal fishing activities. An increasing number of RFMOs are using port and trade measures to discourage IUU fishing activity. Measures include not allowing vessels suspected of fishing illegally to dock or unload in a country’s port, developing IUU fishing lists of vessels taking part in illegal fishing activities, and scrapping vessels found guilty of multiple illegal fishing offences.

Illegal fishing refers to:

  • Fishing by national or foreign vessels within a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone without permission, or, undertaking fishing activities that contravene that country’s laws or regulations.
  • Fishing by a vessel flying the flag of a State party to a relevant Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) that contravenes conservation or management measures adopted by that organization or part of international law.
  • Fishing that violates national laws or international obligations.

Unreported fishing refers to:

  • Fishing that has not been reported, or has been misreported, to the relevant national authority or RFMO.

Unregulated fishing refers to:

  • Fishing within the regulatory zone of a RFMO of a vessel without a nationality, or by a vessel flying the flag of a state not party to the organization (Flag of convenience), which contravenes the conservation and management measure set out by the RFMO.
  • Fishing outside of regulated zones, which is inconsistent with efforts under international law to conserve living marine resources.