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At international levels, IUU fishing is the subject of intensified and ongoing high-level concern. It continues to be addressed in agencies and fora of the United Nations, as well as by other national, regional and international organizations and fora. Despite some successes reported by RFBs in combating IUU fishing, information available to FAO indicates that, in general, IUU fishing is increasing in both intensity and scope and is continuing to undermine national and regional efforts to sustainably manage fisheries, as called for in all international fishery instruments concluded since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).[312]

The potential role of RFBs as highly effective vehicles for consolidating energies and moving forward in efforts to combat IUU fishing activities is widely acknowledged. As noted above, it was an RFB that gave life to the term “IUU fishing” then introduced a comprehensive suite of measures to counter its effects. The importance of the role of RFBs is reinforced by the recent or planned establishment of three new RFBs in as many oceans,[313] and the intensified activities of many existing organizations.

The IPOA-IUU reflects international recognition of the potential contribution of RFMOs by identifying a toolbox of actions and measures for their consideration and use as appropriate. Almost all RFMOs[314] and some RFBs that do not have a management mandate have responded by reporting implementation, to varying degrees, all of the tools provided in the IPOA-IUU.

However, even with the adoption to date of a wide range of measures against IUU fishing, most RFBs have indicated that many challenges lie ahead. One significant and continuing challenge is estimating the extent and effects of IUU fishing; while some RFBs were able to estimate the number of IUU vessels and total catch, many were unable to provide even general estimates. Where IUU fishing was estimated, it was expressed principally in terms of species and/or related gear.

Some other clear trends emerged in the responses, summarized below. They include RFBs’ perceptions of the main causes of IUU fishing and the issues of: flag State control; MCS; trade and marketing issues; and information, institutional and policy aspects of combating IUU fishing. However, there did not appear to be any discernable trends among RFBs with multispecies mandates, or in relation to the geographical distribution of IUU fishing.

Most respondents perceived the main causes of IUU fishing as the lack of effective flag State control by both members and non-members, the operation of open registries and the profit motive. However, the limited resources available in some member countries for effective control by the coastal State or flag State was acknowledged.

Notwithstanding this concern, the issue of flag State control was a strong and recurring one throughout the responses. Flag State control was identified both as a major challenge in combating IUU fishing, and an area where some effective measures have been taken, but mostly where improved measures are needed. It was suggested that a culture of compliance be created through awareness-raising.

A second predominant issue was MCS. In this regard, activities that were identified as major challenges in combating IUU fishing activity included nonreporting/misreporting, difficulty in carrying out inspections at sea, and lack of equipment and human capacity. Interestingly, several respondents identified certain MCS measures they had adopted as “effective”, and other RFBs that have not yet adopted such measures identified the same measures as “needed”. These measures included strengthened MCS in general, surveillance systems/VMS, improved or coordinated surveillance at sea, fisheries observers, port State control and an improved legal framework. Observer programmes were described by some RFBs as “highly effective”.

A third major issue was trade and marketing measures, but generally for those RFBs that have already adopted such measures. This clearly addresses the profit motive for IUU fishing, because the purpose is to block sales, or make it more difficult to sell fish harvested by IUU fishers. They were described as both effective and having a positive impact on reducing IUU fishing.

The five RFBs that identified certain measures as effective also reported a positive impact of those measures in reducing or eliminating IUU fishing. Most of those measures relate to the above three issues: flag State control, MCS and trade. However, this represents a relatively low proportion of RFBs, and in many cases the extent of the impact is not clear.

A fourth area concerns three categories of activity that support the previous issues: the information, institutional and policy aspects of dealing with IUU fishing. Although many relevant measures were not generally cited as “effective” or “needed”, responses indicated significant activity by the RFBs in these areas. In particular, areas that appeared to be important for RFBs included certain aspects of institutional strengthening, determination of internal policy objectives and information collection and exchange (including with other RFBs). One RFB designated information exchange on IUU fishing as “highly effective”.

In addition to issue-specific trends, the RFB responses showed trends in levels of activity in implementing the various measures in the IPOA-IUU. A significant number of RFBs have implemented 40 percent, and a moderate number of RFBs have implemented an additional 37 percent of the measures.

Many of the items where significant activity was reported reflect to a large extent the priority RFBs attribute to developing MCS and compliance measures, in particular those relating to reporting, monitoring landings, regulating transshipments, real time VMS and promoting implementation of MCS by members.

Many of the items where moderate activity was reported have only recently begun to assume importance in the battle against IUU fishing. These include development of measures relating to flag State responsibility and port State control, presumptions for IUU fishing and support, information exchange on IUU fishing, estimates of the extent of IUU fishing activity, development of boarding and inspection regimes and observer programmes, determination of policy objectives for coordination with other RFBs and some aspects of institutional strengthening (mandate, functions and decision-making). While moderate activity is also reported for the development of action plans, one RFB designated this as a “highly effective” measure.

The remaining items, where only some respondents indicated implementation, largely focused on measures or action that may not be broadly applicable, such as those relating to marketing, trade, chartering arrangements and coordination with other RFBs on policy and enforcement. One such measure may, however, affect the extent to which other measures can be implemented: institutional strengthening in respect of finance. However several RFBs indicated this was not applicable.

Five RFBs indicated that their measures had a positive impact on combating species-specific IUU fishing, and trends indicate that RFBs are adopting an increasing range of measures that implement the IPOA-IUU. However, operational challenges and potential impediments were also flagged. Some RFBs expressed concern about situations that encourage IUU fishing, such as the knowledge by fishers that there is no capability for surveillance or inspection at sea, and the impact of continuing IUU fishing on the political will of RFB members to agree on appropriate measures. However, where measures have been agreed, other RFBs expressed concern that the time lag between their adoption and entry into force - possibly six months or more - may operate to dilute their impact due to the dynamic nature of IUU fishing. And, where they have entered into force, it could take a substantial amount of time to evaluate their effectiveness.

It is clear that RFBs will encounter many challenges in the way forward, but the framework provided by the IPOA-IUU provides a common platform for taking appropriate actions and measures. RFBs, as a whole, have made significant strides in implementing many of these measures both before and after the adoption of the IPOA-IUU. There have been some favourable results, but there is still a need for continuing and intensified efforts to combat IUU fishing on a global scale, accompanied by timely monitoring and evaluation of those efforts.

Regional fishery bodies or arrangements, including those with and without management mandates, have demonstrated that they are well positioned to achieve success in preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing in the future. However, although it is the RFBs that are in the “front line” of the assault against IUU fishing for shared stocks and high seas fishing, the measure of success will depend to a great extent on the cooperation of members and non-members to implement and enforce the agreed measures and actions.

[312] Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization concerning United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/58/L.19 on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, January 2004.
[313] The South-East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), the Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC), and the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
[314] As noted above, the only exceptions include those RFMOs that advised they: are newly established; are not affected by IUU fishing; or were engaged in relevant discussions at the time of writing.

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