Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are forms of fishing without a valid licence and without reporting catches in national or international waters under the aegis of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO). Unregulated fishing mostly refers to vessels without nationality or flying a flag of a country that is not party to relevant RFMO.

Some facts:

  • Pirate activites may also involve illegal transshipment at sea and any other forms of evading existing laws, rules and regulations.
  • The FAO IUU Action Plan contains a full definition and proposed counter measures.
  • Pirate fishing has been on the rise in the last decades and may now affect as much as one third of fisheries according to latest estimates, though by the nature of the illegal activities, hard data are difficult to come by.

  • Incentives for IUU fishing have grown in tune with massive overcapacity of fleets, transport and processing facilities. In 2009, WWF Germany estimated conservatively that the gains from illegal catches were between US$ 4 and 9 billion in recent years.

  • Other sources give higher figures: The team of a specialised website investigating and exposing illegal fishing (a discontinued project, unfortunately) estimated that in recent years between 11 and 26 million tons of fish were caught illegally and/or are unreported and/or the result of unregulated (IUU) fishing (Agnew et al., 2009). The damage created by these illicit activities were between US$ 10 and 23.5 billion annually.

  • The scale of illegal fishing and associated activities, including trading, is indicative of weak governance and even weaker enforcement of existing laws. A recent joint paper by senior fisheries officials from West Africa with Dyhia Belhabib about the effectiveness of the monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) efforts in the countries is an effort to quantify the problem in this particularly affected region.

  • The problem is also apparent in the EU as shown in a recent publication: At current trends, the EU will miss its legal obligation for rebuilding degraded marine ecosystems by 30 years. Read more. The reform the failed fisheries policy, if actually implemented, may yet reverse the course of progressive decline of resources and social strains, particularly in the Mediterranean, to meet obligations. Among others, the EU has adopted measures against IUU fishing and invites cooperation from its trading and cooperation partners to curb this scourge more effectively. Click here for details, even though the measures do not seem to work as expected.

  • The leadership in key institutions in the US has made some headway with the application of existing legislation for conservation and restoration of degraded fish stocks. There is renewed respect of their statutory obligations and leaders are listening to countless citizens, celebrities and conservation organisations advocating a course towards restoration and sustainable use.

  • Greenpeace and the Environmental Justice Foundation have produced several vivid videos on pirate fishing off West Africa, which show not only the more visible side destroying once productive resources, but also the social misery and abuse that often goes hand in hand with such illegal activities.

  • It has become increasingly clear that the same industrial fleets operating at times legally under licence agreements also engage in illegal operations of all kinds when the "opportunity" arises, e.g. when monitoring, control and surveillance particularly of developing is weak (see the evidence cited above). When, in addition, port-based authorities have lax practices, such as the is the case in Las Palmas, they are further preparing the ground for mixing legal and illegal catches in the face of international commerce and overcapacities of processing plants, often even created with public subsidies. The extent of fraudulent practices and profits make these cases of international organised crime to be pursued by Interpol and their likes, not the stuff of ordinary fisheries management.