Twenty-fourth Session

Rome, Italy, 26 February - 2 March 2001



This document provides information concerning the developments to elaborate an international plan of action (IPOA) to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Following a discussion of the mandate in the introduction of the paper, the scope and impact of IUU fishing is reviewed. The calls that have been made to combat IUU fishing are outlined and action being taken discussed. The process for elaboration of the IPOA is considered and its implementation and monitoring addressed. The paper invites the Committee to note the progress achieved to date in the elaboration of the draft IPOA and to comment as appropriate.


1. FAO was mandated by the Twenty-third Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 1999 to develop an international plan of action (IPOA) to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. To this end, FAO has taken steps to fulfil this mandate by:

These steps have been undertaken sequentially with each step providing input for the next stage.

2. The IPOA to combat IUU fishing will be the fourth such plan to be concluded within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The three IPOAs that have already been concluded, and which are in the process of being implemented by States, concern reducing the incidental catches of seabirds in longline fisheries, the conservation and management of sharks and the management of fishing capacity.

3. The non-entry into force of the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement1 and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement2 has been identified as a contributing factor to the proliferation of IUU fishing. If these instruments were in force and if States met fully their flag State obligations under international law, the incidence of IUU fishing would be greatly reduced. Consequently, as a first step in addressing IUU fishing States are encouraged to ratify, accede to or accept, as appropriate, both of these instruments.

4. IUU fishing has far-reaching consequences for the long-term sustainable management of fishery resources. When such fishing goes unchecked, the system upon which fisheries management decisions are based becomes fundamentally flawed. This situation leads to the non-achievement of management goals and the loss of both short- and long-term social and economic opportunities. In the extreme, IUU fishing could lead to the collapse of a fishery or seriously affect efforts to rebuild fish stocks that have already been depleted.
5. The initiatives taken by regional fisheries management organizations, discussed below, demonstrate the serious and global nature of IUU fishing and the extent to which it can undermine the work of these organizations. From the information that is available from these organizations it is apparent that IUU fishing is taking place in all oceans and in all types of fisheries. Moreover, IUU fishing is a problem generated by both contracting and non-contracting parties to regional fisheries management organizations; it is not caused only by fishing vessels from open registries 3 or by non-contracting party vessels to regional organizations.
6. A key consideration in addressing IUU fishing is the need to ensure that flag States meet their obligations under international law. Factors likely to contribute directly to IUU fishing include:


7. Calls to combat IUU fishing have been made in international and regional fora since the early 1990s, though the undesirable impacts of this type of fishing have been acknowledged for a much longer period of time. In recent years agencies of the UN System and regional institutions have been vocal in their efforts to secure concerted and effective action to curb the growing incidence of IUU fishing. States and regional fishery management organizations that have taken measures to curb IUU fishing support these international and regional calls and action.

Initiatives within the UN System

8. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has been addressing IUU fishing on an ongoing basis over the past decade. In FAO, the 1999 Session of COFI considered IUU fishing. The Committee expressed concern about the reported high and growing incidence of IUU fishing, including the activities of fishing vessels flying "flags of convenience"4. The Committee proposed a course of action and recommended that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) be appraised of the importance COFI ascribed to the need to combat IUU fishing.
9. Shortly after COFI, an FAO Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries in March 1999 adopted a Declaration that, inter alia, expressed concern at the growing amount of IUU fishing. The Ministers declared that without prejudice to the rights and obligations of States under international law, an IPOA dealing with all forms of IUU fishing, including fishing vessels from open registries should be developed. Subsequently, in June 1999 the FAO Council, in considering the Report of the Twenty-third Session of COFI, urged that a global approach be taken by FAO to the development of a strategy to address IUU fishing. Furthermore, the Council proposed that this initiative be carried forward through the development of an IPOA within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
10. Other international fora have focused on, and are continuing to address, issues relating to IUU fishing. The Seventh Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in April 1999 considered the issue noting that FAO would give priority to the development of an IPOA to deal effectively with any form of IUU fishing. The CSD underscored the importance of flag and port State issues in combating IUU fishing. Moreover, in its report of the Session, CSD invited IMO to develop, as a matter of urgency, measures in binding form to ensure that ships of all flag States meet international rules and standards so as to give full and complete effect to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (in particular, Article 91) as well as other relevant conventions.
11. The United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea in late May and early June 2000 addressed IUU fishing. The report of the Session, inter alia:

12. FAO is cooperating with IMO to give effect to the international calls to secure concerted action to combat IUU fishing. Most notable in this connection, FAO made a submission to the Seventy-second Session of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in May 2000 proposing the formation of a Joint FAO/IMO Ad hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing and Related Matters. The Committee agreed to this FAO proposal.

13. The Joint FAO/IMO Ad Hoc Working Group met at FAO Headquarters in Rome in October 2000. The purpose of the Working Group is to facilitate FAO's work on IUU fishing and to respond to calls made in international fora in 1999 and 2000 for closer cooperation between FAO and IMO on issues fundamental to combating IUU fishing. In its work the Group focused largely on technical matters concerning flag State control over fishing vessels and port State measures for fishing vessels.6
Action by regional fishery management organizations
14. Regional fishery management organizations and other fora have, in regular and special sessions, considered IUU fishing and have initiated steps independently of the FAO-led process to develop an IPOA to combat IUU fishing. Regional action to combat IUU fishing in terms of market (primarily though catch documentation schemes that attempt to identify the origin of fish caught and influence its sale) and port (control over landings of fish) measures have already been adopted, individually or in combination, by at least six organizations. At least six other organizations are in the process of reviewing action to be taken against IUU fishing.
15. The Second Meeting of the FAO and Non-FAO Regional Fishery Bodies or Arrangements will be held in Rome in February 2001 and will address IUU fishing. It is anticipated that the deliberations of these bodies will provide input for the draft IPOA to combat IUU fishing prior to its finalization and submission to the Twenty-fourth Session of COFI.
Action at national level
16. Some States have taken steps to strengthen national action against IUU fishing. These steps have included:

17. These measures by States are critical to reinforce international and regional action to address IUU fishing. In the absence of full and effective flag State control of fishing vessels by flag States, the implementation of port State measures and trade-related measures for fish taken outside national and agreed regional conservation and management arrangements are required to combat IUU fishing.


18. After consulting with regional fishery management organizations concerning the extent and gravity of IUU fishing in their respective areas, the Government of Australia, in cooperation with FAO, convened an Expert Consultation on IUU Fishing in Sydney, Australia, in May 2000. The purpose of this meeting was to consider all pertinent technical and legal issues relating to IUU fishing and to elaborate a preliminary draft of an IPOA to combat IUU fishing.

19. The report of the Sydney Expert Consultation, which had appended a preliminary draft IPOA and which was entitled 'International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing', was disseminated to FAO Members and the international community. The report of the Sydney meeting was also submitted to the FAO Technical Consultation on IUU Fishing that was held in Rome, Italy, from 2 to 6 October 2000.

20. The Technical Consultation agreed to use the preliminary draft IPOA developed in Sydney as the starting point for discussions. This was done with the explicit understanding that all parts of the preliminary draft were open for negotiation and that acceptance of the Sydney text in no manner pre-empted or prejudiced discussion on any topic at the Technical Consultation.

21. The Technical Consultation made good progress towards the elaboration of an IPOA to combat IUU fishing despite the complex nature of the issues. However, it was not possible to complete a second reading of the text. Consequently, a Second Technical Consultation on IUU Fishing has been scheduled at FAO Headquarters from 22 to 23 February 2001 with the view to finalizing the draft IPOA. The draft IPOA to combat IUU fishing will be submitted to COFI at the commencement of the Session, as document COFI/2001/7 Add.


22. If the draft IPOA is accepted by COFI, it is envisaged that all States, irrespective of the role in the fisheries sector (coastal State, flag State and port State) individually and through their participation in regional fisheries management organizations, will implement the IPOA.

23. COFI will monitor the implementation of the IPOA to combat IUU fishing, as it does already with other three IPOAs, in the context of the Committee's deliberations relating to the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Currently, FAO Members are pursuing a self-assessment process, but later expanded or additional assessments might be developed as a means of enhanced reporting and monitoring.


24. The Committee is invited to note the progress achieved with the elaboration of the draft IPOA to combat IUU fishing, and to comment as appropriate. The draft IPOA will be found in document COFI/2001/7 Add.


FAO. 1995. Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas. FAO. Rome. 61p. The Agreement will enter into force as from the date of receipt by the Director-General of FAO of the 25th instrument of acceptance. As at 1 October 2000 17 States and the EC had accepted the Compliance Agreement.


FAO and UN. 1998. Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. International Fisheries Instruments with Index. UN. New York. 110p. This document also contains the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Compliance Agreement. The 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement will enter into force 30 days after the date of deposit of the 30th instrument of ratification or accession. As at 13 October 2000 the Agreement had 28 ratifications or accessions.


In this paper the term 'open registry' is used in preference to 'flag of convenience' as this latter term causes difficulties for some countries that operate such registries.


Report of the Twenty-Third Session of the Committee on Fisheries, Rome, Italy, 15-19 February 1999. Paragraph 72.


See paragraphs 9 to 14 of the Report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. UN General Assembly document A/55/274. UN. New York. 20p.


The report of the Working Group is available at this Session in COFI/2001/Inf.10.


Canada , the United States of America and Japan are already providing the information required under Article VI of the Agreement even though it has not yet entered into force.