IUU Fishing a.k.a Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing

Up to 26 million tonnes of fish are not evaluated or enumerated inadequately within global fisheries statistics (Agnew et al., 2009) that are reported to FAO of the United Nations. Disincentives (Pramod 2012) like poor governance, administrative and bureaucratic red tape, lack of funds to collect fisheries data from widely spread-out coastal landing sites, etc. also contribute to the scale of this issue. Individual fishers and captains on large fishing vessels also contribute to this problem through under-reporting of catches declared at the port, illegal fishing in marine protected areas and closed zones, high-grading or discarding of catches at sea and not accounting for the same in vessel logbooks, under-reporting catches in the vessel’s hold, misreporting of species and catches onboard, declaring higher value species as lower value fish to undermine quotas allocated to fishing vessels and companies, etc.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be one of the most serious threats to marine ecosystems, as it has the potential to derail national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably and protect genuine fishers dependent on oceans for their livelihoods. Fisheries compliance evaluations have traditionally relied on self-reporting questionnaires submitted by UN member states without possibility of any third-party audit or verification of the reported information.

Source: FAO of the United Nations

IUU fishing control technologies and human resources to effectively monitor, and enforce national maritime policies is minimal in the developing world. Consumers in national and end-markets are the principal drivers of positive change to control IUU fishing as their buying choices drive the supply-demand treadmill and create a positive or negative chain reaction to influence fishing practices in developing countries that supply the bulk of the world’s seafood needs.

IUU fishing comes in all shapes and dimensions; depending on the location of the country, administrative regulations binding the fishing vessel, its fishing industry and range of its fishing fleet, port state control and national policies that value and treat fisheries resources seriously (e.g., Norway) or treat it merely as a revenue source (e.g., West African countries). Illegal fishing occurs both on the high seas and in areas within national control. It encompasses all aspects and stages of fish capture and its subsequent movement from local markets to national and global supply chains or end-market states.

Globalization of seafood trade and demand in end-market states has exposed several marine species to overfishing and depletion even when demand for such products is virtually nil in the country of harvest (e.g., abalone, sea cucumbers, lobsters, etc.). The supply-demand hierarchy of high-value species (e.g., tuna) is often controlled by end-market states and their associated buyers & suppliers or supply chains who control the price and management structures on the high seas through membership to RFMOs and lobbying groups.

Contrary to popular opinion, legislative reforms alone cannot drive the level of IUU fishing down unless such reforms are backed by provision of adequate funding and enforcement support to military and civilian agencies implementing the fisheries laws at ports and at sea.

Drivers of IUU Fishing

  1. Corruption
  2. Poor Control of Seafood industry & Trading Corridors
  3. Subsidies
  4. Lack of port state control
  5. Administrative & Bureaucratic Red tape
  6. Lack of adequate funding for data collection, enumeration and conducting MCS duties
  7. Lack of infrastructure (FMC, fully functional offices with tablets, desk-space, computers, field equipment, digital software and shortage of mobile patrol vehicles (4-wheelers, as well as patrol boats to act on actionable intelligence generated through VMS, AIS & other satellite tracking tools).
  8. Lack of trained officers and capacity to conduct routine skill building exercises to evaluate and improve enforcement effectiveness. 
  9. Poor Governance (Lack of adequate and updated fisheries laws, outdated regulations and policies related to administration and fisheries monitoring control and surveillance F-MCS)
  10. Foreign corporate investments without transparency on beneficial ownership and audit of corporate operations by partner countries.
  11. Poor corporate governance (Lobbying and investments in seafood industry by people connected to politicians within ruling government in power)
  12. Debt bondage to foreign powers who act as joint venture partners in the national seafood industry (for both national industrial fishing trawlers & tuna fleet)
  13. Lack of adequate observer coverage of the industrial fishing fleet.
  14. Low fishing penalties for IUU fishing violations (Pramod 2012)
  15. Lack of transparency on beneficial ownership and confidentiality of enforcement data plaguing fisheries monitoring control and surveillance effectiveness (Penalties for illegal fishing vessels; licensing, vessel registration, boat ownership, company ownership, catch reports, dockside inspections data, VMS reports, fishing plants inspections, etc.)
  16. Flags of Convenience
  17. Poor flag state performance
  18. Lack of vessel registration and reporting requirements for smaller fishing vessels or sport fishing boats

IUU fishing depletes the resources available to legitimate fishermen, resulting in the collapse of local fisheries, with small-scale fisheries in poor nations being particularly vulnerable. IUU fishing products may find their way into international trade markets, squeezing the local food supply. As a result, IUU fishing endangers livelihoods, exacerbates poverty and food insecurity for indigenous fishers in source countries. IUU fishing happens on the high seas and in other areas under national control, affecting particularly vulnerable coastal rural populations in developing countries (e.g., West Africa, Asia, Latin America).

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be one of the most serious threats to marine ecosystems, as it has the potential to derail national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably and to protect marine biodiversity. IUU fishing is frequently linked to other transnational criminal activities such as human slavery of fishing crews, crew abuse, human trafficking, and the use of fishing vessels to transship other contraband cargo at sea. Although the degree to which slavery and other maritime crimes occur are influenced by the geographic location of fishing vessels, range of fishing operations and the home-ports that they operate from under a lower degree of scrutiny.

IUU Risk Intelligence