FAO Fisheries Circular No. 996


Judith Swan Consultant International Institutions and Liaison Service FAO Fisheries Department Rome, Italy

The 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing (IPOA-IUU), elaborated under the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct, has become prominently visible and the subject of ongoing high-level attention at the international level and among regional fishery bodies or arrangements (RFBs), including regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) mandated to adopt conservation and management measures. 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. 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.

At the international level, IUU fishing is the subject of intensified and ongoing high-level concern. In the UN system, FAO has undertaken activities to support the implementation of the IPOA-IUU, including preparing and distributing Technical Guidelines on the implementation of the IPOA-IUU and model NPOAs for coastal and small island developing States, and convening regional workshops to enhance capacity for national implementation of the IPOA-IUU as well as expert consultations. The FAO Conference in November 2003 encouraged national and regional plans of action to be developed no later than 2004. Other UN agencies have also been active in addressing the implementation of the IPOA-IUU, including the Commission on Sustainable Development, the International Maritime Organization, and the International Labour Organization. The UN General Assembly has adopted eight Resolutions relevant to the IPOA-IUU since 2000, and other UN fora have encouraged its implementation. Focused action has also been undertaken by international organizations and fora, including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the European Commission.

At a regional level, the important role of regional organizations in combating IUU fishing is reflected in paragraphs 78 through 84 of the IPOA-IUU, titled "Regional fisheries Management Organizations". These paragraphs encourage States to take specified measures and actions through RFMOs in conformity with international law and obligations. They have also been applied as appropriate by some RFBs that do not have management mandates.

Information on the actions and measures taken to implement the IPOA-IUU was sought through distribution of a questionnaire to all RFBs, which sought information on: RFB action to implement the IPOA-IUU, the extent and effects of IUU fishing in the RFB’s area of competence, and the measures and actions taken by RFBs in response to the challenges they identified.

Responses were received from twenty-two marine RFBs, including all RFMOs, and of these the total field of responses reported and assessed below is fifteen: twelve RFMOs and three RFBs that do not have a management mandate. Seven respondents indicated the questionnaire was not relevant at this time. Responses were prepared by the secretariats, and not formally considered by members. This document, based on the responses, reflects priorities indicated by the responding RFBs.

RFBs reported implementation, to varying degrees, all of the tools provided in the IPOA-IUU. However, 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.

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 monitoring, control and surveillance (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.

A third major issue was trade and marketing measures, but mostly for those RFBs that have already adopted such measures. They were described as both effective and having a positive impact on reducing IUU fishing.

A fourth area relates to activities 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.

Trends also emerged in terms of the levels of activity in implementing the various measures in the IPOA-IUU. Many items where significant activity was reported reflect the priority RFBs attribute to developing MCS and compliance measures and strengthening institutional mechanisms. Items where moderate activity was reported tended to be IUU-specific, or have otherwise become prominent in the battle against IUU fishing, such as flag State responsibility, port State control and the development of action plans.

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.

Five RFBs indicated that their measures had a positive impact on combating species-specific IUU fishing, and trends indicate that RFBs are continuing to adopt an increasing range of measures that implement the IPOA-IUU. However, some 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 evaluation and monitoring of those efforts.

RFBs 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.