General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

Tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to sustainable fisheries and, more broadly, to marine resources.  

Whilst we are yet to know the full extent of IUU fishing’s impacts on fish stocks and marine resources in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, we do know that, every year, up to 26 million tonnes of fish – valued at about USD 10-23 billion – are caught as a result of IUU fishing globally.   

The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is at the forefront of the battle against IUU fishing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region.  

Everything that the GFCM does contributes to preventing and deterring IUU fishing and mitigating its impacts.  

Take for, example, all the tools developed by the GFCM – from the inspections' reports, check of the electronics records and devices of the vessel (for example, vessel monitoring system (VMS) device, electronic logbook) used by inspectors in over 20 countries to ascertain if an IUU fishing incident took place, to report it and deal with it accordingly, to a one-stop shop providing information on all commercial fishing vessels in the region, and much more.   


Or, the forums the GFCM has been creating – ensuring that parties across the region can come together and share experiences, making the fight against IUU fishing everyone’s mission. 

Or, the recommendations adopted by the GFCM on all aspects of fisheries and aquaculture in the region, with direct ramifications on IUU fishing. These recommendations are not just words on paper. They are binding legal instruments that must be reflected in GFCM members’ national legislations.

“Measures to tackle IUU fishing have been there at least since 2001, when FAO adopted its International Plan for the Fight Against IUU fishing. However, it has taken considerable time for the international community to use these measures as a combined toolkit complementary to management measures,” says Nicola Ferri, GFCM Compliance Officer who has been overseeing and coordinating GFCM’s work on the fight against IUU fishing. 

“What we have seen recently is a shift towards progressively integrating measures to fight against IUU fishing into broader fisheries management systems. In the case of the GFCM, we see this with multiannual management plans adopted at the subregional level, which now encompass monitoring, control and surveillance, inspection requirements and designation of landing ports. This is a crucial development because IUU fishing ultimately undermines fisheries management. So measures adopted to fight against IUU fishing are to be considered as an integral part of an efficient fisheries management system,” adds Ferri. 

Voices from the field

“There is more regulation and fishers are more used to the presence and work of inspectors. Digital tools help better control and manage inspection activities where violations are more likely,” says Esther Boy Carmona, a fisheries inspector who oversees the work of 160 inspectors in Spain, leads on inspection plans for ensuring sustainable fisheries, and puts in practice many of the GFCM-driven measures against IUU fishing. 

Boy Carmona started working as a fisheries inspector in 2002, when, she says, you could count less than ten women in a group of about 60 inspectors in Spain. 

What is she most proud of? 


"I am glad to have been part of the working team that developed and fought for the international implementation of the existing bluefin tuna control protocols," says Boy Carmona. 

After 11 years of rolling out the 2006 Bluefin Tuna Recovery Plan, in 2018, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) confirmed bluefin tuna stocks were rebuilt five years ahead of schedule, and approved a multiannual management plan for bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. 

''We are working together with all stakeholders in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea to counter IUU fishing at the regional, subregional and national level. We do this through an ongoing collaboration emanating from the most relevant international provisions and using innovative and highly effective monitoring, control and surveillance tools for fisheries,'' says Hamadi Mejri, Deputy Director of Fish Resources Conservation at Tunisia's Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, who also chairs the GFCM Compliance Committee. 

"I was born and grew up in a coastal village. This created a strong link with everything that has to do with the sea. My graduate studies were in marine sciences. I was lucky to be accepted for the position of fisheries inspector,” said Hentour Abderrahmane, a fisheries inspector from Algeria and Director of fishing activities’ control at the Ministry of Fisheries and Fisheries Production. "At the beginning, I often asked myself – will I be accepted by the fishers, will they cooperate with me? But after a while, I realized that fishers cooperated in general when I gave them legal and, sometimes, scientific explanations." 

"What has marked the last few years was the entry into force of several instruments to fight against IUU fishing. Control and inspection have been rigorous for several years now as all ships are systematically inspected when leaving or entering a fishing port in Algeria. During my years as an inspector, I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of violations. But we must always step up our efforts to guarantee full compliance," added Abderrahmane. 

At a glance: GFCM actions on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Here are nine ways the GFCM tackles IUU fishing.

1. In 2017, the GFCM has developed a regional plan of action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region. The plan guides GFCM member countries in their fight against IUU fishing, strengthening national frameworks, while harmonizing measures across the region.

2. Port state measures provide a powerful and cost-effective means of combatting IUU fishing. The 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) was the first binding international agreement to target IUU fishing, preventing vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches.

With the same aim, a 2016 GFCM recommendation lays down a minimum set of standard measures for regional port states to apply when foreign vessels seek entry into or use their ports. These are used to verify that such vessels have not engaged in IUU fishing, preventing any fish caught illegally from entering into the country, and reducing the economic incentives for perpetrators to continue to operate.

3. Several observation and inspection programmes have been established at the subregional level to ensure that fishing vessels comply with GFCM measures against-IUU fishing. Joint inspection schemes – with pilot projects in select countries – are implemented by the GFCM with the European Fisheries Control Agency and national inspectors. These schemes allow for the pooling of essential resources and technology, and support the establishment of sighting procedures to deter vessels without a flag, or engaged in reflagging, from operating in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

4. A centralized vessel monitoring system (VMS) and related controls system, under development by the GFCM, will support the reliable assessment of fisheries stocks, the identification of fishing grounds and the monitoring of fishing activities, all of which contribute to GFCM’s aim for sustainable fisheries. A fishing vessel’s VMS equipment provides real-time data on its position and activity. This underpins monitoring and control measures and provides national agencies with accurate information, allowing the prompt identification of IUU activities. The GFCM sets out minimum technical standards for a VMS.

5. Cooperation is key in the fight against IUU fishing as it allows for information on alleged breaches in management measures to be exchanged between port and flag states, and for corrective actions to be swiftly identified. In this context, the GFCM launched a mutual assistance mechanism which facilitates the exchange of information on any case of presumed IUU fishing activity. 

6. Fleet registers are an effective tool for the management of fishing fleet capacity, and they also support coordinated efforts to prevent vessels known to have engaged in IUU fishing from operating undetected, moving from one marine region to another. In light of this, the GFCM established a record of fishing vessels more than 15 metres in length overall (LOA) authorized to fish in the GFCM area of application. Vessels more than 15 m LOA that are not in the record are deemed not to be authorized to fish, retain on board, transship or land species managed by the GFCM.

The GFCM has also established a Regional Fleet Register containing information on all vessels, ships, boats or other craft that are equipped and used for commercial fishing in the GFCM area of application.

7. Traceability mechanisms covering fisheries are a powerful deterrent against IUU fishing. Catch documentation schemes in particular can be very effective in preventing illegally harvested fishery products from entering the supply chain, and several GFCM recommendations relate to their development, in line with general guidelines provided by FAO.

8. IUU fishing is often connected to other illegal practices and crimes, which are frequently transnational and organized. Operators of IUU fishing vessels are known to disregard poor labour conditions, promote human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and firearms, commit fraud, and evade taxation and customs duties. In this regard, active cooperation among international organizations with the mandate to tackle such activities is vital. The GFCM has been pursuing cooperation with the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

9. After a proposal by the GFCM in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly launched in 2017 the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing to draw attention to the threats posed by IUU fishing activities to fishery sustainability, as well as to ongoing efforts to fight these activities. IUU Day is marked each year on 5 June, with FAO leading activities for the Day.