3 December 2003, Rome -- Efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing must be intensified, FAO stated in a report presented yesterday to representatives of its Member Nations gathered here for the 32nd session of the Organization's governing Conference.

Worldwide, IUU fishing appears to be increasing as a number of fishers seek to avoid the stricter rules being established in many places in response to shrinking catches and declining fish stocks, noted FAO in its report to the Conference.

"The situation is particularly grave and forbidding given that some 75 percent of world fisheries are already being fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted," the UN specialized agency said.

The term IUU fishing is commonly used to describe a wide range of unscrupulous fishing activities.

Some IUU fishers operate in areas where fishing is not permitted. Some employ banned technologies, outlawed net types, or flaunt fishing regulations in other ways. Others under-report how big their catches are - or don't report them at all. In some cases, in fact, catches of commercially-valuable fish species may be surpassing permitted levels by over 300 percent due to IUU fishing, according to reports made to FAO.

"Flags of convenience" an aggravating factor

The growing number of countries operating open vessel registries also contributes to the problem, since in some cases this makes it easier for IUU fishers to operate under so-called "flags of convenience", FAO also reported.

The term is commonly used to refer to countries that allow vessels from around the globe to operate under their flags while not adequately ensuring that they respect national and international rules governing fishing.

"In a world where states exercised effective control over fishing vessels flying their flags, the incidence of IUU fishing would be greatly reduced," FAO said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many countries simply do not have the capacity to closely monitor for IUU fishing.

Building a new framework for combating IUU fishing

In June 2001, some 110 nations endorsed an FAO-brokered International Plan of Action (IPOA) on IUU fishing, which among other things calls on States to develop and implement their own plans as soon as possible.

Around forty-one countries world-wide are expected to have national plans in place by June 2004, FAO said.

But for many countries - particularly in the developing world - meeting the challenges of implementing the IPOA-IUU and elaborating national action plans is very difficult, owing to limited technical, institutional and financial resources.

FAO added that this situation has prompted numerous bilateral and multilateral assistance programmes aimed at helping countries build their capacity to deal with IUU fishing.

"Through time, these initiatives will assist in closing weaker 'links' in the IUU fishing chain that IUU fisheries seek to exploit," the Organization said.

FAO itself is intensifying efforts to provide a wide range of support to countries to help them develop and implement their national action plans, particularly under the umbrella of the multilateral FishCode initiative, FAO's Programme of Global Partnerships for Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Other achievements in this area include: elaboration of technical guidelines for establishing anti-IUU fishing programmes at the national level; development of educational materials; and a series of regional workshops around the world to assist countries drafting plans on IUU fishing.

FAO is as well helping shape global responses to the problem through expert and technical consultations, partnering with other international agencies, and cooperating closely with regional fisheries bodies.

The Organization is also providing technical advice to countries on a one-on-one basis.

Additionally, a major meeting will be convened by FAO in Rome inJune 2004 to evaluate implementation of the IPOA-IUU and identify ways to speed up that process.

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53168