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The Issues

Yellow fish boxes at port

When the IMCS Network was established in 2001 there was already an urgent call for global action to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and to combat IUU fishing. Since then, there have been developments and advancements in these areas, particularly to combat IUU fishing. However, challenges remain and IUU fishing practices continue to evolve as fishing pressure increases and regulation and control develops. 

IUU fishing is recognized as a global problem that directly undermines marine conservation and sustainable fisheries management efforts. A range of estimates of the scale and cost of IUU fishing have been made over the years but its true nature remains largely unknown. In recent years, research has identified a direct link between IUU fishing, transnational organized crime and human rights abuses making IUU fishing more complex and in some cases, more organized. Therefore, identifying and responding to different forms of IUU fishing and related activities is getting more difficult and requires more sophisticated and coordinated compliance responses. 

IUU fishing is used to broadly describe fishing activities that contravene or disregard national, regional or international fisheries legal frameworks or to describe a lack of regulation or control in fisheries. The term covers a wide variety of fishing activities and reflects three distinct and separate, sometimes overlapping components; illegal, unreported and unregulated. Fisheries-related offences are complex and often do not fit within a specific IUU component and thus the compliance responses need to be targeted to the nature and severity of the offence. This can be a IUU focusses on different offence types or groupings, rather than considering the specific circumstances in which offending occurs. This can cause MCS practitioners to focus on the symptoms of a problem, rather than to identify the root cause. It is only in understanding the root cause, that appropriate compliance responses can be developed.

Fisheries compliance regimes need to be developed to effectively to respond to emerging and ongoing challenges. The development of fishing operations has seen vessels operating across vast ocean areas and different jurisdictions. Transhipment and bunkering activities keep fishing vessels at sea longer and make effective monitoring more challenging. Countries are required to meet a growing number of regional and international obligations and to understand and apply the rapid development of technology used to detect IUU fishing. Beneficial ownership of vessels is often hidden behind complex structures of ownership and control that can cross jurisdictional boundaries. This makes it much more difficult to identify and hold to account the individuals that benefit from non-compliant behavior and IUU fishing. 

Fisheries agencies are generally data and information rich and intelligence poor and this means that it can be hard for countries to target compliance activities in the most cost-effective and efficient way. MCS regimes must be comprehensive, integrated and provide real-time, accurate, fit-for-purpose, verifiable information in a cost-effective and non-discriminatory manner. MCS regimes must also be flexible and respond to the evolving nature of IUU fishing. This can all be challenging, particularly for developing countries that have limited resources and competing priorities. 

Now it is more important than ever that the individuals working at the forefront of fisheries MCS, compliance and enforcement are  supported and collective and collaborative responses to IUU fishing are promoted and sustained.

Turning the Tide? - Learning from Responses to Large-Scale IUU Fishing in Five Countries

A report highlighting the importance of developing MCS officers to tackle the increasingly complex challenge posed by IUU fishing and related crimes.

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Combating Transnational Organized Crime Committed at Sea

A report by UNODC examining organized crime committed at sea and the links with IUU fishing

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