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Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is not a new phenomenon in capture fisheries nor is it confined to high seas fisheries. It also occurs in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal States by national and foreign vessels and in river and inland fisheries. However, in marine fisheries, while it is difficult to estimate precisely the total IUU catch in tonnage or value terms, the level of IUU fishing has reached major proportions for some species. These catches, in many cases, are being made by both authorized and non-authorized fishers; that is, the catches are not being taken only by vessels operating under 'flags of non-compliance' (FOC).

The root cause of IUU fishing is a lack of effective flag State control. In a perfect world where there is full and effective flag State control the incidence of IUU fishing would be greatly reduced. However, the world is not perfect and some States, after authorizing vessels to fly their flags, fail to meet their obligations under international law with respect to the supervision and control of these vessels. Furthermore, some States do not provide proper authorizations for their vessels to fish once they assume the State's flag. This lack of supervision and authorization to fish enables such vessels to engage in IUU fishing with impunity.

IUU fishing undermines national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks and, as a consequence, inhibits progress towards achieving the goals of long-term sustainability and responsibility as set forth in, inter alia, Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Moreover, IUU fishing greatly disadvantages and discriminates against those fishers that act responsibly, honestly and in accordance with the terms of their fishing authorizations. This is a compelling reason why IUU fishing must be dealt with expeditiously and in a transparent manner. If IUU fishing is not curbed, and if IUU fishers target vulnerable stocks that are subject to strict management controls or moratoria, efforts to rebuild those stocks to healthy levels will not be achieved.

Actions taken

Possible solutions

The failure of some States to meet their international obligations concerning flag State responsibility under international law has led the international community to seek innovative ways of addressing IUU fishing.

At the national level countries are implementing measures to deny access to known IUU fishing vessels to ports, taking steps to strengthening real-time monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) and raising public awareness about the long-term impacts of IUU fishing.

The implementation of a comprehensive suite of port State measures is required to help combat IUU fishing and reduce its impacts. There is a need to harmonize these measures regionally and to ensure that cooperative regional action underpins their implementation. Importantly, port State measures are an efficient and cost-effective tool to help in the eradication of IUU fishing.

Strengthening flag State performance has also been identified by the international community as a priority to assist in combating IUU fishing. In many respects enhanced flag State performance and stronger port State measures will address IUU fishing more directly with improved results.

Some regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) and arrangements have moved to develop catch certification schemes as means of discouraging IUU fishing. The purpose of these schemes, which are already being used by the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), is to track catches in trade. RFMOs regard these schemes as an important tool to fight IUU fishing. FAO is working with RFMOs to standardize these documentation schemes, to the extent that this is possible.

FOC vessels

A matter of concern with respect to IUU fishing is age and capability of the FOC fleet. It had been assumed, perhaps implicitly, that vessels re-flagging to open registers or switching to such registries to circumvent regionally agreed conservation and measures were old vessels, fully depreciated and nearing the end of their productive lives. However, recent fleet analysis by FAO shows, based on data available from Lloyds Maritime Information Services, that this is not the case. An increasing number of young and recently constructed vessels are moving to open registers. This means that the FOC fleet is not an old and aging fleet as had been thought previously. With the high correlation between FOC vessels and IUU fishing in the convention areas of CCAMLR, CCSBT and ICCAT, for example, the EC has pointed out that fishing by FOC vessels represent a considerable treat to the survival of fisheries worldwide.

The International Coalition of Fisheries Associations (IFCA) has urged the World Trade Organization (WTO) to support the use of trade measures as a means of encouraging compliance with global and regional fisheries conservation and management measures. IFCA maintains that trade measures can be very effective in discouraging and eliminating FOC fishing operations and IUU fishing.


In 2001 the Members of FAO concluded, within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, an International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU). It complements certain aspects of the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.

To support the implementation of the IPOA-IUU, FAO has prepared a technical guideline designed to provide practical advice on how States should implement the IPOA. In particular, the IPOA encourages States, to develop national plans of action to implement the IPOA-IUU. A simple language publication entitled "Stopping IUU Fishing" which is designed to sensitize fishers and fishing communities about the effects of IUU fishing is also being widely disseminated by FAO.

Port State measures

Negotiations for the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures were concluded in 2009 and following approval by the FAO Conference. The Agreement opened for signature for one year on 22 November 2009. The Agreement will enter into force 30 days after the date of the deposit of the twenty-fifth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the FAO Depositary:


The Agreement, on its own, will not solve the world’s IUU fishing problems. They must be addressed comprehensively and in different, mutually reinforcing ways. However, blocking the movement of IUU-caught fish into ports and onto national and international markets should cost-effectively reduce the incentive for fishers to engage in IUU fishing and related activities.

Global record

The Global Record of Fishing Vessels Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record) is a voluntary, phased and collaborative global initiative intending to make information available on vessel identification and other relevant data with the aim of providing a reliable and rapid way to contrast data with other sources. Fishing vessels are included but also other vessels involved in fishing operations are included.

Flag State performance

The Technical Consultation on Flag State Performance was held at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy, from 2 to 6 May 2011, and resumed from 5 to 9 March 2012 and from 4 to 8 February 2013. The Technical Consultation came to a close at the second resumed session with agreement being reached on "Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance". The Guidelines were then endorsed by the 31st session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries.


IUU fishing must be addressed effectively if long-term, sustainable and responsible conservation and management arrangements are to be put in place. It is a major fisheries issue that is being grappled with by many national fisheries administrations and in many RFMOs. It is not a problem that will disappear from the fisheries agenda in the short term.

Further IUU fishing work is required. Some of these issues that need to be addressed include developing criteria for flag-State performace; raising the awareness of FOC States about the effects their vessels are having on fisheries conservation and management; assessing further the linkage between industry subsidies, fishing capacity and IUU fishing; and strengthening regional and international MCS networks to report and disseminate information, in real time, about the operations of IUU fishers.

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