C 2003/21


Thirty-second Session

Rome, 29 November – 10 December 2003



1. The purpose of this document is to report to the Conference on measures taken, and being taken, to implement the FAO International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) with a view to achieving long-term sustainable and responsible fisheries through greater awareness about IUU fishing and concerted action to combat such fishing .

2. The paper is arranged as follows:

3. IUU fishing occurs across the world and affects both marine and inland capture fisheries. Despite common misunderstandings about IUU fishing, it is not confined to any particular group of fishers, though experience shows that IUU fishing is widely practiced in those fisheries – both within exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and on the high seas – where the prospects for apprehension are lowest and by fishers that operate vessels that are not subject to effective flag State control.1

4. There are no global data on the full extent and cost of IUU fishing. The nature of this type of fishing does not readily permit global estimation with any significant degree of confidence. In their reporting, Members advised FAO that IUU fishing occurs in both marine and freshwater capture fisheries2, but that the extent and full impact of IUU fishing is not well known in all cases. However, some RFMOs are working to assess the regional extent and impacts of IUU fishing. In one case, for example, it is estimated by an RFMO that catches of one commercially-valuable species could be exceeding permitted catch levels by more nearly 300 percent.

5. IUU fishing is a major impediment to the achievement of long-term sustainable fisheries as called for, inter alia, in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21,3 the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries,4 the UN Millennium Development Goals5 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.6 This is because the activities of IUU fishers undermine national and regional efforts to implement management measures that are designed to promote responsible fisheries. Such situation is particularly grave and forbidding given that some 75 percent of world fisheries are already being fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.7

6. In late 2002, many countries reported to FAO that IUU fishing impacts their efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries. Moreover, about one third of the FAO Membership stated that such fishing is problematic and is hampering their efforts to implement the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

7. Various regional fishery management organizations or arrangements (RFMOs), which are the cornerstones for the promotion of international cooperation in fisheries management, have reported that IUU fishing in their convention areas by both member and non-member flag vessels is widespread and handicaps their efforts to rationally manage fisheries.

8. The challenge faced by these bodies and other RFMOs is serious because implementation of any measures they may adopt to combat IUU fishing are only as effective as their members permit them to be, since they are not supra-national entities. A failure by RFMOs to effectively address IUU fishing reflects, to some degree, a lack of political will8 by their members to take concerted and calculated steps to control fishing vessels that engage in activities that undermine the work of RFMOs and thereby render their fisheries management efforts sub-optimal.9

9. A further serious and moral consideration relating to IUU fishing is that such fishing is contributing to food insecurity in some coastal and inland fishing communities that are heavily dependent on fish for food and revenue derived from the sale of fishing licences and from fish exports. While this is not a recent phenomenon in some regions, information available to FAO from country reports and discussions in fora such as the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) indicates that the incidence and depth of IUU fishing is increasing, sometimes at the expense of impoverished small-scale fishers.


10. FAO has been at the forefront of international efforts and action to address IUU fishing. The 1999 Rome Declaration on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries10 states, inter alia, that countries would develop a global plan of action to deal effectively with all forms of IUU fishing including fishing vessels flying "flags of convenience". This seminal Declaration set the international stage for efforts to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing and provided the impetus and framework for FAO to pursue a structured suite of activities that resulted in the elaboration and adoption of the 2001 International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IPOA-IUU).

11. In the mean time, growing international concern about IUU fishing led the issue to be addressed by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Indeed, IUU fishing has been considered each year since 2000 in UNGA resolutions.11

12. With a sharp focus on fisheries issues and the need to secure sustainable outcomes in the fisheries sector as promulgated at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED),12 the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) addressed, inter alia, the scope and effects of IUU fishing. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, which also reflects certain decisions adopted by COFI, called for States to implement the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its related IPOAs and guidelines. Significantly, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation urges that States implement by 2004 national and, where appropriate, regional plans of action to give effect to the IPOA-IUU. The Plan also specifies deadlines for five fisheries issues including the development and implementation of national and regional plans of action to put into effect the IPOA for the management of fishing capacity by 2005; the establishment of representative networks of marine protected areas by 2012; the application of the ecosystem approach to fisheries by 2010; and the restoration of depleted stocks not later than 2015.

13. Furthermore, to enhance the implementation of the IPOA-IUU and to reduce the incidence of IUU fishing and fishing fleet overcapacity, the Johannesburg Plan of Action urged States to establish effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) systems for fishing vessels, including by flag States and to eliminate subsidies paid to the fishing industry that contribute to IUU fishing.

14. At the regional level, as noted above, many RFMOs and other organizations that do not have specific fisheries management functions are directing attention to IUU fishing. In addition to keeping IUU fishing under review and heightening their Members’ awareness about the problem, some RFMOs and international organizations have discussed, made recommendations and passed resolutions on IUU fishing as a means of condemning and combating it.13


15. IUU fishing flourishes primarily because many States fail to meet their obligations under international law with respect to flag State control. In a world where States exercised effective control over fishing vessels flying their flags the incidence of IUU fishing would be greatly reduced. However, States are not meeting their flag State obligations either because they are unable or unwilling to do so. This situation has necessitated that the international community look beyond conventional solutions to combat IUU fishing and adopt and implement a wider and more innovative suite of measures that are important secondary defences when flag States do not meet their international obligations. Indeed, this was one of the fundamental reasons why FAO Members opted to elaborate the IPOA-IUU.

16. Concluded within the framework of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the IPOA-IUU is an instrument which is voluntary and comprehensive. It may be viewed as a ‘toolbox’ offering a set of measures which States can ‘mix and match’ or ‘tailor’ to meet their particular IUU fishing needs and challenges.

17. For monitoring and reporting on progress with the implementation of the IPOA-IUU, Members, RFMOs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are invited to report to FAO every two years in the context of their reporting relating to the implementation of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. An analysis of the information provided by respondents is important in that it enables FAO to assess and highlight difficulties being encountered by countries in their implementation efforts, and indicates priorities and development assistance needs so that donors might more effectively channel and target assistance to priority areas identified by countries.

18. In this reporting, Members have indicated the types of measures they had adopted in their efforts to curb IUU fishing.14

19. Forty-seven Members indicated to FAO that they had taken steps towards developing and implementing their NPOAs.15 Twenty-three Members indicated that they would finalize their NPOAs in the near future while a further 18 Members reported that their NPOAs would be completed before the 2004 deadline.16 However, to date few countries have actually elaborated their IPOAs.

20. Based on that information, it may be concluded that the rate at which IUU fishing NPOAs are being developed and implemented falls short of the desired pace necessary to effectively combat such fishing. Developing countries, in particular, are experiencing difficulties in complying with the implementation deadline because of a limited technical capacity and, in some cases, financial means.

21. Given the importance of IUU fishing and its effects on sustainability, every effort should be made to combat such fishing as a matter of urgency. However, in assessing progress towards the development and implementation of NPOAs to combat IUU fishing it should be noted that a period of three years, as specified in the IPOA-IUU, is a relatively limited timeframe within which to undertake the required background work, elaborate a draft NPOA, have it cleared through domestic processes and then commence implementation. It should also be recognized that since UNCED there have been a number of important international fishery instruments (including several that have been adopted in regions) that require considerable national assessment and in turn, implementation. This situation has led to ‘implementation overload’, for both developing and developed countries. Taking a broader perspective on the implementation of all post-UNCED fishery instruments and the national burden associated with it, delays in implementation should be anticipated.


22. The IPOA-IUU calls for the elaboration and implementation of NPOAs. This is indeed necessary in order to give effect to the IPOA-IUU itself, but it presupposes that countries have the technical and financial means to do so. In this respect, the IPOA-IUU recognizes17 the special requirements of developing countries, in particular the least developed among them and small island developing States, in terms of the financial, technical and other assistance needed to meet their commitments under the IPOA-IUU and other obligations under international law.

23. The challenges presented by IUU fishing have generated bilateral and multilateral responses to assist developing countries enhance their capacities to address these challenges. Bilateral assistance, very often of a practical and ‘hands on’ nature, has been provided to countries in a number of key areas including, inter alia, MCS and VMS training, improving vessel boarding and inspection procedures, enhancing observer programmes, implementing catch documentation schemes and strengthening port inspection procedures. Multilateral cooperation is also growing, especially in MCS-related areas concerning the real-time sharing of information, through such initiatives as the International MCS Network. These bilateral or multilateral strategic initiatives are likely to be maintained, expanded and deepened through time as a means of enhancing national capacities in developing countries. It is anticipated that through time these initiatives will assist in closing weaker ‘links’ in the IUU fishing chain that IUU fishers seek to exploit.

24. FAO targets activities in developing countries so as to build capacity and strengthen institutions in promoting long-term sustainable fisheries. Information available to FAO concerning the implementation of the IPOA-IUU indicates that many developing Members are in need of technical assistance to enhance their capacities to elaborate and implement their NPOAs.

25. The IPOA-IUU proposes that FAO, in cooperation with relevant international financial institutions and mechanisms (IFIs), should assist developing countries implement the IPOA-IUU. The proposed FAO activities include the review and revision of national legislation; improvement and harmonization of fisheries and related data collection; strengthening of regional institutions; and strengthening and enhancing of integrated MCS systems, including satellite vessels monitoring systems (VMS).

26. FAO has been providing assistance to developing countries in these four areas as part of its Regular Programme and trust-fund activities. FAO has implemented a programme of assistance for developing countries to review and revise national fisheries and related legislation; assisted developing countries upgrade their data collection, processing, reporting and harmonization capabilities; encouraged RFMOs to enhance their capacities to better fulfil their mandates and to this end has taken steps to encourage dialogue and collaboration between them; and promoted the implementation of MCS and VMS systems in countries through policy and practical training.

27. The IPOA-IUU further calls on FAO to collect information and data for further analysis aimed at identifying factors and causes contributing to IUU fishing; support the development of national and regional plans to combat IUU fishing; collaborate with international agencies and, in particular, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to further investigate the issue of IUU fishing, in particular, by strengthening measures by port States; and convene a consultation on the implementation of catch certification and documentation requirements; investigate the benefits of establishing and maintaining global databases, including but not limited to, information provided for in Article VI (Exchange of Information) in the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement.

28. Since the FAO Council endorsement of the IPOA-IUU, FAO has undertaken, and is undertaking, activities designed to heighten international awareness about the scope and impact of IUU fishing, its adverse impacts on sustainable fisheries and the management efforts of RFMOs and as a means of supporting initiatives to combat such fishing.18

29. Recognizing the linkage between IUU fishing and fishing fleet overcapacity, FAO will convene a Technical Consultation to review progress with, and promote the full implementation of, the IPOA-IUU and the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity. The Consultation is scheduled to be held at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy in June 2004.


30. Recognizing the importance and severity of the effects of IUU fishing it is proposed that, in order to promote the full and effective implementation of the IPOA-IUU, FAO should:

31. To implement effectively the IPOA-IUU countries should take steps to ensure that they elaborate their NPOAs as a matter of priority; ensure that there is an adequate flow of bilateral and multilateral technical assistance to developing countries to enable them to meet their requirements under the IPOA-IUU and obligations under international law, and adopt and put in place national and, as appropriate, regional measures, consistent with the IPOA-IUU, to deter, prevent and eliminate IUU fishing.


32. The Conference is invited to recognise the severe and adverse impacts of IUU fishing on efforts to achieve long-term sustainability in fisheries, to reaffirm its commitment to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing in all its forms, and to give full effect to the implementation of the IPOA-IUU.


1 The international community further recognizes that IUU fishing is symptomatic of other problems facing the fisheries sector. These problems need to be resolved in a timely manner if IUU fishing is to be prevented, deterred and eliminated. These problems include, inter alia, the ineffective fisheries management that fails to regulate fishery inputs and outputs; excess fleet capacity in some fisheries and the ‘pushing out’ and re-flagging of vessels from managed fisheries as regulations tighten in these fisheries to other fisheries that are unmanaged or poorly managed. Often this process involves a migration of displaced fleet capacity; the masking of the real economic costs of vessel construction and fishing operations through the payment of fisheries-related subsidies; and consistent failure by many countries, and in particular some countries that operate open registries for fishing vessels, to meet their international obligations with respect to the control of fishing vessels flying their flags. Some of these points were highlighted at the Twenty-fifth Session of the Committee on Fisheries in 2003.

2 Members also reported on the types of IUU fishing being encountered in their fisheries .Such types of fishing includes unauthorized incursions into EEZs and inshore areas especially by foreign fishing vessels. Some Members noted that such incursions are adversely impacting production by small-scale fishers; unauthorized fishing in closed and restricted areas; incomplete catch and effort reporting by industrial fleets. The under-reporting of catches was identified as a significant problem; lack of compliance by fishers with the terms of their fishing authorization; use of banned fishing gears; fishing with explosives and poisons; and use of dams for the illegal netting of fish in inland fisheries.

3 Adopted in 1992 by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

4 Adopted in 1995 by the Twenty-eighth Session of the FAO Conference.

5 Adopted in 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly at its Fifty-fifth Session.

6 Adopted in 2002 by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

7 FAO. 2002. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.

8 A lack of political will to take action to curb IUU fishing is a major constraint to dealing effectively with this type of fishing. Morover, there is a tendency for some States to take refuge behind national policies and legislation as a means of avoiding or deferring commitments that are necessary to combat IUU fishing.

9 There is a growing impatience with diplomatic approaches to IUU fishing and the members of some RFMOs are contemplating the adoption of ‘name and shame’ policies for vessels and flags that are perpetual IUU fishing offenders.

10 Adopted in 1999 by the FAO Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries.

11 UNGA resolutions A/RES/55/7 (2000); A/RES/55/8 (2000); A/RES/56/12 (2001); A/RES/57/141 (2002), and A/RES/57/142 (2002). Within the ambit of the UNGA, IUU fishing has also been reviewed in the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) since 2000.

12 Agenda 21 provides the principles and a programme of action for achieving sustainable development.

13 RFMOs that have addressed IUU fishing, made recommendations or passed resolutions directed at preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing include, inter-alia, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, and the Preparatory Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Some RFMOs have also adopted resolutions relating to fishing by non-parties on stocks subject to management with a view to seeking their cooperation to halt their IUU fishing activities.

14 This information is taken from written information provided to FAO in 2002 and from disucssions at the Twenty-fifth Session of the Committee on Fisheries. The measures adopted included: strengthen the functions of RFMOs; accept and ratify international instruments such as the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement; strengthen policy and legislation to conform with the IPOA-IUU including provisions for tougher vessel licensing and the deregistration, decommissioning and scrapping of vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing; improve mechanisms to more effectively address flag State and port State responsibilities; implement measures to give greater control over nationals working on fishing vessels of any flag State; implement measures to against “flag of convenience vessels”; impose higher penalties and imprisonment terms for IUU fishers; enhance MCS and the mandatory implementation of Vessel Monitoring System (VMS); improve vessel observers’ programmes; seize and destroy catches resulting from IUU fishing so that fishers will not benefit from their illicit activities; seize and destroy fishing gear belonging to fishers when it is known that their vessels have engaged in IUU fishing; implement more comprehensive catch reporting; strengthen regional cooperation, through RFMOs, to reduce avenues for IUU fishing; introduce catch certification schemes to trace the origin of fish and prohibition of certain landings if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the fish has been taken by IUU fishers; and build awareness among stakeholders, including fishers’ associations, concerning the extent and detrimental effects of IUU fishing.

15 As provided for in paragraphs 25 to 27 of the IPOA-IUU.

16 This deadline is June 2004, three years after the adoption of the IPOA-IUU by the FAO Council.

17 Part V of the IPOA-IUU.

18 These activities include the translation and wide dissemination of the IPOA-IUU; preparation, translation and wide distribution of comprehensive technical guidelines to support the implementation of the IPOA-IUU; preparation, translation and distribution of a simple language publication entitled “Stopping IUU Fishing”; cooperation with RFMOs in convening an Expert Consultation of Regional Fishery Bodies on Harmonization Certification; convening an Expert Consultation to Review Port State Measures to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. The documents from this Consultation will form the basis for follow-up in 2004 when an FAO Technical Consultation on Port State Measures to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing will be convened. It will address substantive issues relating to the role of the port State and, as appropriate, principles and guidelines for the establishment of regional memoranda of understanding on port State measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing; convening an Expert Consultation on Fishing Vessels Operating under Open Registries and their Impact on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, in cooperation with the Government of the United States of America; mounting regional workshops to assist developing countries elaborate NPOAs; and assisting developing countries, on a request basis, to assess national situations with respect to IUU fishing and the development of proposed courses of action to address it.