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David J. Doulman[1]
Senior Fishery Liaison Officer
International Institutions and Liaison Service
Fishery Policy and Planning Division
FAO, Rome, Italy

April 2000

I. Introduction[2]

1. To a greater of lesser extent, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) fishing is found in all capture fisheries, irrespective of their location, species targeted, fishing gear employed or intensity of exploitation. In short, in its universality IUU fishing occurs in both small-scale and industrial fisheries, in marine and inland fisheries, as well as in zones of national jurisdiction and on the high seas.

2. IUU fishing is not a new phenomenon. It has been a source of concern for resource custodians since the earliest times when fishing communities first started to implement measures to conserve fish stocks. In some societies where indigenous resource-use practices continue, such as many of the societies in South Pacific island countries, traditional and time-tested conservation measures remain in use, and infringement of these measures by IUU fishers carry strong social and economic sanctions.

3. IUU fishing has many facets and motivations, through the most obvious underlying motivations are those of an economic nature. Different in scope and severity, the impact of IUU fishing on resources is, non-the-less, similar: In any form it serves to undermine national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks. In cases where stocks are seriously depleted, IUU fishing will inhibit, if not prevent, the re-building of those stocks.

4. Undermining conservation and management initiatives by national and regional authorities fails to promote long-term sustainable fisheries. It is precisely for this reason that international attention has focussed on finding ways and means to minimize, if not eliminate, such fishing practices.

5. In industrial fisheries and in small-scale migrant fisheries of the type found in West Africa, a critical issue contributing to IUU fishing is the lack of flag State control over the operations of fishing vessels. Indeed, in a world where strong and effective flag State control was exercised, there would be little scope for IUU fishing. This point has been echoed in a number of recent international fora including FAO meetings, the Commission on Sustainable Development and the United Nations General Assembly, among others.

6. To achieve more effective flag State control over fishing vessels, and to provide a more effective link between the flag and the vessel, it is essential that flag States provide authorizations for all vessels to fish, irrespective of whether this authorization is for operations in zones of national jurisdictions, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other countries, or on the high seas. However, in addition to this authorization by the flag State other supporting activities are required to ensure that vessels comply fully with the terms and conditions of their authorizations, that reporting is complete, accurate and timely and that unregulated fishing does not occur.

7. This authorization to fish should be provided by the national fisheries administration of the flag State. This is essential to address IUU fishing in a substantive and front-on manner. It this connexion it has been reported that some States that operate open registries, as part of their efforts to promote responsible fisheries, now require fishing authorizations to be provided by their respective national fisheries administrations.

II. Incidence and extent of IUU fishing

8. The question might be asked just how serious is IUU fishing and how globally widespread is the practice? While there is no complete and comprehensive answer to this question, despite efforts by FAO to canvass an assessment of the problem, it might be noted that many of the world's regional fisheries management organizations have taken steps to address IUU fishing. This action has been taken with a view to minimizing the its adverse impact on their work.

9. With respect to the magnitude of IUU fishing FAO is informally aware that in some important fisheries, IUU fishing accounts for upto 30 percent of total catches, and in one instance has been indicated that IUU catches could be as high as three times the permitted catch level.

10. These data, if accurate, have major consequences for national and regional stock assessments, and in turn, the determination of catch levels and other management measures adopted and implemented by national administrations and regional fisheries management organizations.

11. In zones of national jurisdiction IUU fishing is apparent by both authorized and unauthorized fishermen. To address IUU fishing national fisheries administrations are encouraged to strengthen, inter alia, licensing procedures, conservation and management measures, data reporting, collection and analysis, and monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) systems.

12. Regional fisheries management organizations are taking steps to combat IUU fishing. In this connexion, steps have already been taken by the:

Other regional fisheries management organizations not listed here are in the process of taking stock of, and addressing, IUU fishing.

13. In the case of regional fisheries management organizations IUU fishing by both contracting and non-contracting parties is apparent. IUU fishing is not confined only to vessels from open registries or to vessels from non-contracting parties. Members of regional organizations are urged to enhance their flag State control and to cooperate with port States, as appropriate, to combat IUU fishing. Non-parties, in their efforts to be good international citizens and responsible fishers, are also urged to take steps to control their vessels so that they do not engage in activities that undermine the work of regional fisheries management organizations. The issue of these organizations accommodating new entrants should therefore be substantively addressed as a means of minimizing the impact of IUU fishing on their work.

14. The initiatives being taken by regional fisheries management organizations reflect the global and serious nature of IUU fishing. It is problematic in all oceans and in different types of fisheries - it is not, for example, only a problem in tuna fisheries.

III. IPOA to combat IUU fishing

15. FAO was given a clear mandate at the Twenty-third Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI), and subsequently, the 1999 FAO Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries, to develop an international plan of action (IPOA) to combat IUU fishing within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. FAO has already elaborated three other IPOAs. Like the Code of Conduct, the IPOA to combat IUU fishing will be voluntary in nature. However, this will not prevent countries from incorporating parts of the IPOA into national legislation, thereby giving the plan's provisions binding effect, if they so desire. This has already been done with respect to the Code of Conduct.

16. The process for the development of the IPOA to combat IUU fishing will track the process adopted by FAO for the elaboration of the IPOA for the management of fishing capacity. It has also been proposed that in order to minimize negotiation time, the IUU fishing IPOA should use the fishing capacity IPOA as a framework.

17. Following the Expert Consultation here in Sydney, FAO will provide a paper to the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process at UN Headquarters in New York in late May 2000 concerning IUU fishing. It is anticipated that the Government of Australia will report to the Consultative Process on the outcome of this Expert Consultation. The report of this meeting, which have annexed a preliminary draft of an IPOA to combat IUU fishing will in turn be made available to the FAO Technical Consultation on IUU Fishing that will be held in Rome from 3 to 6 October 2000. It is envisaged that the preliminary draft of the IPOA will provide a useful basis for discussion and negotiation at the Technical Consultation, while recognizing that the preliminary draft will in no way pre-empt or prejudice discussion at the Technical Consultation.

18. In February 2000 FAO will report to the Twenty-fourth Session of COFI on progress achieved in fulfilling the mandate provided concerning IUU fishing, and in particular the request to develop an IPOA to combat IUU fishing. Given the urgency of the IUU fishing problem and the strong international focus on the issue, FAO anticipates that it will be possible to provide COFI with a draft IPOA for consideration and possible adoption.

IV. Some issues for an IPOA

19. A number of international meetings have already addressed IUU fishing and have identified issues that should be considered in drafting an IPOA. The input from these meetings, as well as the input sought by FAO from regional fisheries management organizations, has greatly assisted FAO in framing its preparatory work for the development of the plan.

20. Issues of both a short and longer-term nature have been identified for possible inclusion in an IPOA. Inter alia, these issues include:

V. International and inter-agency cooperation

21. To combat IUU fishing concerted international cooperation will be required. To achieve this goal the collaboration of all States is needed, irrespective of whether their roles are primarily as coastal States, flag States, port States, or fish importing countries. A clear focus on the issues that contribute to IUU fishing, and a common international resolve to address them in a timely and realistic manner, should enable progress to be made toward greatly reducing or eliminating IUU fishing.

22. FAO has a long history of cooperation in fisheries matters with IMO and other agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO). With respect to IUU fishing, the establishment of the Joint FAO/IMO Ad-hoc Working Group, which is expected to receive the blessing of IMO's Marine Safety Committee (MSC) at its Seventy-second Session in May 2000, will lay the groundwork for cooperative action on IUU fishing between the two organizations. This collaboration between FAO and IMO, in which FAO will take the lead, is in line with calls made for FAO and IMO to cooperate on finding solutions to IUU fishing.

23. FAO will continue to cooperate with regional fisheries management organizations and to facilitate cooperation among these organizations. An important aspect of this collaboration is the annual consolidated reporting by FAO to the UNGA on activities of regional fisheries management organizations and the biennial meeting of FAO and non-FAO to address matters of mutual concern.

VI. Technical assistance for developing countries

24. Since the early 1990s several important fisheries instruments have been concluded, including the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement, 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and 1999 IPOAs for reducing incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries, the conservation and management of sharks and the management of fishing capacity. These instruments create obligations for all States, including developing countries that lack, in many cases, the technical and financial capacity to meet fully their obligations under these instruments. An IPOA to combat IUU fishing will create further obligations, some of which even developed countries are likely to have difficulty in meeting.

25. The above-mentioned instruments acknowledge the need to technically support developing countries in their efforts to implement and monitor the operative components of these instruments. However, experience shows that these expressions of good intent are not sufficient to facilitate the implementation of these instruments, and specialized funds should be established for this purpose.

26. Within its limited resources, FAO is playing an central role in facilitating the implementation of these instruments, but in the absence of extra-budgetary funding, which in the case of the Code of Conduct has only been forthcoming from a small number of donors, FAO's activities and options are limited. Consequently, in the case of the IUU fishing IPOA, countries that are in a position to assist their developing country counterparts may wish to consider the possibility of establishing a special extra-budgetary fund for this purpose.

VII. FAO's role in monitoring the IPOA

27. FAO has been requested by COFI to provide biennial progress reports to the Committee on achievements with the implementation of the Code of Conduct. This reporting includes progress with the implementation of the three IPOAs. The COFI report is based on self-assessment information provided by countries in response to an FAO questionnaire.

28. The IPOA to combat IUU fishing will also be monitored by FAO, if it is adopted at the next Session of COFI. It is envisaged that FAO will, in future, report to COFI on the plan's implementation as part of the Organization's biennial reporting on the Code.

VIII. Conclusion

29. Efforts to achieve long-term sustainability in fisheries, as envisaged by Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, present a major challenge for the international community. Future generations have a right to the use of the fisheries resources, and other renewable resources, in the same abundance that current and previous generations have had the benefit of using. However, this future right will be eroded, if not destroyed, in the absence of measures that promote rational utilization. This consideration is not just a philosophical one but rather, a real and practical one.

30. An IPOA to combat IUU fishing has the potential to be an additional and important tool to facilitate the goal of long-term sustainable fisheries. Reinforced by, and supportive of, other national and international fisheries instruments, an IUU fishing IPOA would have the capacity to facilitate cooperative, concerted and targeted action at the root causes that lead to IUU fishing. It is both timely and appropriate, given the evidence that is now available concerning IUU fishing, that work be underway to elaborate, and subsequently implement, an IPOA to combat IUU fishing.

[1] The views expressed in this paper are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FAO or any of its Members.
[2] The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief introduction to the dimensions and some of the problems of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The paper does not provide a synopsis of the issues, some of which are extremely technical, contained in the suite of documents prepared for this Consultation.

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