Fighting three words is changing the fisheries sector

Celebrating progress on the international day against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing damages livelihoods, strains marine resources, harms food security and undermines overall efforts to make fisheries sustainable. © FAO/Cristiano Minichiello


Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU). These three adjectives ultimately jeopardize the whole of the fisheries sector. IUU fishing can destroy the livelihoods of fishing communities, harm food security and nutrition, damage fair local and international trade and often give way to unsafe and indecent working conditions, sometimes even crime.

IUU fishing includes everything from fishing without a license and not accurately reporting catches to fishing in prohibited areas or periods and catching or selling protected species. IUU fishing undermines regional, national and even international efforts to make fisheries sustainable, important for ensuring that marine resources are available in the future, that livelihoods are protected and that species survive. Several countries around the world are combating IUU fishing with FAO’s support and making noteworthy progress.

As we mark 5 June, the International Day for the Fight Against IUU fishing, here are just some highlights of progress made:

Restoring trade in Guinea

Like in football, countries can receive penalties and associated warnings for their actions. In 2012, following concerns about IUU fishing controls in the country, Guinea received a yellow card from the European Union, followed by a red card in 2014. This action essentially blocked access to Europe’s substantial market for Guinea’s seafood products.

Collaborating closely with FAO and partners, Guinea prioritized ending IUU fishing by implementing the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), a tool aimed at preventing vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches. Just two years later, through Guinea’s incredible efforts, the EU trade sanctions were lifted, and Guinea had become one of the front runners in the fight against IUU fishing. The nation’s president was even honored with the Prize of Excellence as a Political Champion in Fisheries at the World Conference on the Blue Economy in Kenya.

There is growing international momentum to combat unsustainable fishing practices through tools like the Port State Measures Agreement and multi-state collaboration like the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Left/Top: ©FAO/Sia Kambou Right/bottom: ©FAO/Claudia Amico

Regional collaboration for better monitoring and surveillance throughout the Black Sea

IUU fishing has become an increasingly important issue to tackle in the Black Sea region. Vulnerable species, such as sturgeon and piked dogfish, as well as commercial species with a high market value such as turbot, are suffering considerably from the impacts of such fishing. The status of living marine resources in the Black Sea is now being more closely monitored by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM). 

The GFCM has been reinforcing fisheries management in the Black Sea by working closely with countries of the region to renew their political commitment to effective regional collaboration and adopting binding decisions that specifically target IUU fishing. Black Sea countries identified inspections at sea and procedures for the detection of infringements as areas most in need of improvement. Consequently, the GFCM has implemented national and regional trainings and technical assistance to enable countries in the region to significantly strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance. These capacity-building activities, in close collaboration with partners, have been instrumental in the progress. For example, a joint inspection programme coordinated by the European Fisheries Control Agency as well as the training of national inspectors and the reinforcement of national fisheries management systems, have led to visible improvements in the region. 

Chile is continuously working to tackle IUU fishing

Ensuring that fisheries remain sustainable is an evolving situation. Unfortunately, one time action does not ensure results forever. Chile is one country that is constantly reviewing and strengthening its national capacity to address IUU fishing. By regularly updating its legislation, most recently in 2019, it has strengthened and increased the responsibilities, resources and tools of the national authority mandated to fight IUU fishing. Concurrently, this legislation has put in place new obligations, as well as an infraction and sanction framework for fishers, not just at the catch stage but also in the post-harvest and trade stages. Chile is also heavily involved in regional and global initiatives, including hosting and chairing the second meeting of the Parties to the PSMA, and the meetings and actions of the Forum of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), showing its active engagement in finding harmonized solutions to this issue.

Increasing regulations in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has one of the richest fisheries in West Africa. A large number of artisanal fishers rely on fish for their livelihood and a significant percentage of the population depends on fish as a source of animal protein. Yet, since the 1980s, Sierra Leone has allowed increasing numbers of foreign vessels to target fish stocks in their national waters, substantially increasing the pressure on these fish stocks.

To ensure the sustainability of its fisheries, Sierra Leone has been increasing regulation of the sector. In 2018, Sierra Leone became a party to the PSMA, an important step to ensuring that foreign vessels entering their ports are not conducting IUU fishing. With the support of FAO and other partners, Sierra Leone has also been working to implement this and other international agreements through legislative reviews, stepping up monitoring, control and surveillance capacities and increasing interagency cooperation.

This international day, June 5, aims to eliminate IUU fishing and support the millions of people who rely on fisheries for their livelihoods and food security. ©FAO/Desirey Minkoh

These are only a few examples of the numerous efforts taking place worldwide as countries and regions fight against IUU fishing. As a supporter of States in this fight, FAO is continually developing tools to help countries eliminate IUU activities. One such tool in development is a global information exchange system, key to the functioning of the PSMA, allowing countries to exchange information on the compliance of foreign vessels seeking entry and using their ports. Together with the up-and-running Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, a one-stop shop for certified information on vessels, these tools will be indispensable in supporting States to combat IUU fishing.

Through efforts like this international day and the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDG 14 – Conserving Life below Water), there is a growing awareness about this serious issue and international momentum to combat these unsustainable practices.

As many of these efforts illustrate, a strong commitment at the national and regional levels is a critical first step, but effective implementation and enforcement of measures, capacity development and international cooperation are essential in turning the tide against IUU fishing. We are hopeful that every time we mark this international day, we will be a step closer to eliminating IUU fishing.

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