BLOG: This year’s COFI must be a springboard for international action on IUU fishing

Date: February 1, 2021

The biennial meeting of the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) is set to take place virtually, from today,  1 February, until 5 February 2021. The meeting is a key occasion for the international community to take stock of the impacts of global efforts against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing over the past two years, and to reiterate their commitments to tackle  these destructive activities and help preserve the ocean’s biodiversity. The EU IUU Coalition (The Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF) are working together to combat IUU fishing, and below we summarise elements of the  COFI discussions of particular relevance to ending IUU fishing, highlighting where international response needs urgent strengthening:

Status, Trends, Emerging Issues and Innovative Responses to Ensure Responsible and Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture: Building Back Better

Monday, 1 February 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has had huge ramifications for businesses across the globe and the fishing industry is no exception. What is more, governmental responses to COVID-19 may have created an enabling environment for unscrupulous actors to undertake IUU fishing or to facilitate trade of IUU caught fish while inspections, port controls and other oversight activity has been changed or eased. 

COVID-19 has contributed to deteriorating labour conditions on fishing vessels as crews have to stay at sea longer, a reduction in the capacity for on-board human observers to monitor vessel activities, a potential increase in transshipments at sea due to restricted access to ports, and disruption to Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) meetings and to their decision-making capacity to discuss anti-IUU related measures during remote meetings with limited agendas.

In order to mitigate these adverse effects, the EU IUU Coalition supports the recommendations of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) COVID-19 Task Force, including:

  • Implementing Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) onboard fishing vessels, including the proliferation of such tools as CCTV, e-logbooks and electronic reporting systems; and
  • Ensuring sufficient resources are available to national institutions, particularly those that oversee the implementation of Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) measures, to facilitate the effective and robust enforcement of fisheries management practices.

Combating IUU fishing

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

IUU fishing is a persistent scourge, and tackling it, challenging. 2020 was the year earmarked by the international community to end IUU fishing and fulfil SDG 14.4, but this was not achieved. We believe that the answer lies in renewed and re-energised international commitment, and the implementation of good governance and transparency measures.

Therefore, the EU IUU Coalition urges States to:

  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers: Require that all eligible vessels registered under the country’s flag and/or operating in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) have an IMO number, and that their information is included in the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record) for increased transparency and to facilitate taking effective action against IUU operators.
  • Port State Measures: At the regional level, adopt and implement comprehensive and consistent port control standards that align with the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), especially where obligatory port State measures are not yet in place. The EU IUU Coalition strongly supports the development of the Global Information Exchange System (GIES) by the FAO as well as making better use of the Global Record in preparation for use of the GIES. In addition to regularly submitting all vessel information to the FAO for inclusion in the Global Record, we further urge States to publicly share information relating to the implementation of port State measures, including designated ports, contact points, inspection records and detected infringements, port access refusals, and suspected IUU fishing vessels.
  • Transshipment: Start the formal process to develop international transshipment guidelines to be adopted by the next COFI meeting. These guidelines should ensure adequate inspection and enforcement capacity for the control of landings and transshipments by vessels accessing the country’s ports, exchange information on transshipment events systematically, require 100% observer coverage (by fully-trained and certified human observers, electronic means, or a combination of both) onboard both the fishing vessel and the carrier vessel for all transshipping events registered under the country’s flag or operating within the country’s EEZ. Otherwise, consider requiring a ban on fishing vessels and carriers registered under the country’s flag or operating within the country’s EEZ from carrying out transshipments at sea.
  • IUU fishing estimate: Standardise the methodologies on the estimation of the magnitude and impact of IUU fishing. Understanding IUU fishing’s effect on countries, communities and markets is a complex task that becomes impossible without a standardised and repeatable methodology to track changes over time. Today that still can’t be done.
  • Catch documentation schemes (CDS): The EU IUU Coalition supports the ongoing valuable work of the FAO and urges more market States to establish robust CDS to protect their markets and limit entry points for IUU-caught seafood. We highly recommend the alignment of existing and emerging CDS, in particular asking for the same information (key data elements) at the point of import. This will enable better information exchange between States, and ease the financial and administrative burden of fishers and supply chain actors that currently or may in the future seek to sell or process catch for multiple markets. We also highlight relevant stakeholder initiatives such as the NGO and industry-developed recommendations for robust CDS. We welcome the deliberations over the provision of technical assistance to countries to develop and implement traceability systems and we encourage Members with unilateral CDS to enhance multilateral conversations, also involving those Members in the process of or who are interested in adopting a CDS, as well as other relevant stakeholders.
  • Joint FAO/International Labour Organization (ILO)/IMO Working Group on IUU Fishing: The EU IUU Coalition strongly supports motions to strengthen the procedural and operational mandate of the Joint FAO/ILO/IMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing and Related Matters. This is in order to promote key and often complementary international instruments for the fight against IUU fishing that the three organisations oversee, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement; the FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas; the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing; the IMO Cape Town Agreement on safety of fishing vessels; and the ILO Work in Fishing Convention C188. Furthermore, closer cooperation should ensure that these are fully implemented with consistent national legal frameworks and that support is provided in a more effective and efficient way where needed.


Given the failure to achieve SDG 14.4 to eliminate IUU fishing by the end of 2020 and the various unfolding planetary challenges that continue to impact ocean health, the need for renewed and ambitious political commitment to deliver sustainable fisheries has never been more pressing. Addressing IUU fishing will only be achieved through coordinated and collaborative efforts. The FAO Committee on Fisheries’ mandate, with its broad membership and expertise and track record on improving management, makes it the most competent international body to lead on this effort and spearhead a renewed and formalised collaboration with other key UN agencies such as, IMO and ILO, as well as States at regional and national levels. Increasing the transparency of fisheries remains imperative to improving the oversight and governance, essential to healthy fisheries. All actors and institutions must work together to facilitate information sharing, including the exchange of vessel monitoring data, establishing both traceability from catch to plate and the identification of fishing vessels. Finally, a proactive civil society remains integral to driving change – for helping hold authorities to account, enabling collaboration, developing solutions and continuing to push for positive change in global fisheries management.

(c) Oceana / Alessandro Donelli