Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing — Seafish

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing

Unauthorised fishing or activity that breaches regional, national or international laws is known as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Why IUU fishing is a problem

Fishing is well controlled in UK waters with strict regulations such as the registration of buyers and sellers. However, on a wider scale IUU fishing remains an important global threat to the sustainable management of fish stocks.

IUU fishing has a serious negative influence on fish stocks through overfishing and damage to the marine ecosystem. It distorts competition and puts fishers that operate legally at a disadvantage. The main driver for the perpetrators is economic benefit. 

IUU fishing is more prevalent in areas where there is poor governance, where the fisheries are not properly managed, and where the seas not well monitored and controlled. Risk factors include:

  • Vessels using ‘flags of convenience’, where the vessel is registered in a country with weak controls;
  • Transshipment at sea, where vessels transfer their catches to other vessels at sea, which can make monitoring of catch quantities and locations difficult;
  • Ports of convenience, where controls are insufficient to prevent the landing of IUU catch.

It is difficult to quantify how much IUU seafood is caught every year, but estimates of 10 to 17% of the global catch have been made.

Photo of small waves at sea in the dark
IUU fishing has a negative influence on fish stocks through overfishing and damage to the marine ecosystem

Action in response to IUU fishing

Combatting IUU fishing requires an understanding of where and how it is taking place, and how this seafood is entering the market. Traceability systems designed to prevent IUU seafood from entering international trade are considered the best approach to prevention.

Legislation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing is in force in the UK. The main elements of this legislation include:

  • UK vessel licensing and registration of buyers and sellers, which requires all those engaged in the first sale of fish landed in the UK to be registered and to declare their transactions.
  • The requirement for a catch certificate, issued by the flag state of the catching vessel, to certify the legality of imported wild-caught seafood.
  • Maintaining a blacklist of vessels engaged in IUU fishing.
  • A formalised system of dialogue and cooperation with flag states, with sanctions in place against those not complying adequately with requirements to combat IUU fishing.

Worldwide there have been several international initiatives by FAO to combat IUU fishing. These include:

  • An agreement to promote compliance with international conservation and management measures by fishing vessels on the high seas (1993)
  • An international plan of action to deter and eliminate IUU fishing (2001)
  • An agreement to prevent, deter and on eliminate IUU Fishing (2009), which entered into force in 2016.

In 2010 the EU established a system to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. When the UK left the EU in 2020, the UK established its own measures to close the UK to illegal fishery products and vessels. UK legislation limits access to the UK market by requiring flag state authorities to certify sea-caught fishery products intended for importation into the UK. The authorities of countries where the imports were stored or processed also must guarantee compliance.

The guide below outlines measures that businesses can take to reduce the risk of handing IUU fish. It refers to a British Standards Institute (BSI) Code of Practice for processors and importers of seafood to avoid sourcing from IUU and depleting fisheries.         

Guide to IUU fishing

We have produced a guide with more in-depth information on IUU fishing.

It includes information on:

  • Definitions of IUU fishing
  • Why and how IUU fishing occurs
  • The fight against IUU fishing
  • Regulation and control
  • Broader initiatives to combat IUU
  • Assessing the IUU risk in the supply chain

You can download a copy of this guide from the link below.

This document is part of a series of guides looking at issues relating to sustainability and responsible sourcing. You can find other guides on our website from the links below:

Contacts for further information

For more information about IUU fishing, please contact:

Ivan Bartolo
Regulatory Affairs Advisor
Bill Lart
Sustainability and Data Advisor
01472 252323
07876 035 729