IUU fishing is recognized as a major threat to the long term sustainability of the world’s oceans.
What is IUU Fishing?
IUU or illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is fishing that is conducted contradictory to legal conservation and management measures currently in place around the world.
The FAO International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IPOA-IUU) contains the accepted definitions.
Illegal fishing refers to activities:
- conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a state, without the permission of that state, or in contravention of its laws and regulations;
- conducted by vessels flying the flag of states that are parties to a relevant regional fisheries management organization but operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures adopted by that organization and by which the states are bound, or relevant provisions of the applicable international law; or
- in violation of national laws or international obligations, including those undertaken by cooperating states to a relevant regional fisheries management organization.
Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities:
- which have not been reported, or have been misreported, to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations; or
- undertaken in the area of competence of a relevant regional fisheries management organization which have not been reported or have been misreported, in contravention of the reporting procedures of that organization.
Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities:
- in the area of application of a relevant regional fisheries management organization that are conducted by vessels without nationality, or by those flying the flag of a state not party to that organization, or by a fishing entity, in a manner that is not consistent with or contravenes the conservation and management measures of that organization; or
- in areas or for fish stocks in relation to which there are no applicable conservation or management measures and where such fishing activities are conducted in a manner inconsistent with state responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.
Why does IUU fishing occur?
Too many fishers chasing too few fish
If fishing “capacity” is the ability of a vessel or fleet of vessels to catch fish, “overcapacity” means a level of catching power that exceeds what is needed. Currently the fishing industry has too much capital invested in vessels that it must operate to realize a return. More and more boats remove more and more fish, not allowing for their reproductive needs. Fish are being caught younger, some being harvested before they can reproduce. Some commercially targeted fish require only a few years to reach a reproductive age while others may take more than 30 years. The result of this is the catch per unit effort (CPUE) has gone up, meaning more effort is being expended to catch fewer available fish. Therefore, in an era of overfished fish stocks and substantial excess fishing capacity, IUU fishing is recognized as a major threat to the long term sustainability of the world’s oceans.
High and growing demand for seafood
As world populations continue to soar, the demand for seafood, an attainable protein resource, increases, and fisheries stocks are harvested beyond their ability to sustainably reproduce. “Fishing down the food chain” is the result. Fish that were previously discarded as “trash fish” are now fisheries targets. While aquaculture is one potential measure to meeting high consumer demand and reducing soaring wild harvest levels in the future, the gap between supply and demand continues to widen.
IUU fishing is highly profitable so a strong economic incentive exists to participate. It is simply more “expensive” to be a responsible fisher in the global market. The complexity of the fishing industry and the many levels of organization involved leave it vulnerable to the influence of organized crime and corruption. Fishing vessels may also be used in activities such as drug or human trafficking.
What are the results of IUU fishing?
IUU fishing can have far reaching consequences. In the short-term, IUU fishing results in the unsustainable harvest of fish stocks and other marine wildlife, destruction of marine habitats, loss of fish for future harvest, loss of nutrition, and loss of income and employment for legitimate fishers. In the long term, IUU fishing can deplete local, and potentially global, fish stocks to the point where they become commercially unviable or even push them to the brink of extinction. IUU fishing can also undermine labor standards, distort markets of legally harvested fish, and contribute to the loss of economic stability in developing coastal nations.