Background to the Regulation

Comprehensive guide to the regulation and the status of its implementation

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to livelihoods, food security and ocean health globally. As the world’s largest import market for fish products, the European Union plays a pivotal role in reforming the global trade in fisheries products. This analysis charts the progress of the EU’s efforts to shut out illegal catch and end IUU fishing.

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What is the EU IUU Regulation?

The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) entered into force on 1 January 2010.

The Regulation aims to ensure:

  • Only marine fisheries products validated as legal by the competent flag state or exporting state can be imported to or exported from the EU.
  • An IUU vessel list is issued regularly, based on IUU vessels identified by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.
  • The IUU Regulation also offers the possibility to blacklist states that turn a blind eye to illegal fishing activities.
  • EU operators who fish illegally anywhere in the world, under any flag, face substantial penalties proportionate to the economic value of their catch, which deprive them of any profit.


What are the EU rules in place to fight illegal fishing?

The EU IUU Regulation applies to all landings and transhipments of EU and third-country fishing vessels in EU ports, and all trade of marine fishery products to and from the EU. It aims to make sure that no illegally caught fisheries products end up on the EU market.

To achieve this, the Regulation requires flag States to certify the origin and legality of the fish, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The measures therefore aim to ensure that countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules.

When flag States are unable to certify the legality of products in line with international rules, the Commission starts a process of cooperation and assistance with them to help improve their legal framework and practices. The milestones of this process are the warnings (yellow cards), the green cards if issues are solved and the red cards if they aren’t – the latter leading to a trade ban.

In addition to the certification scheme, the Regulation introduces an EU alert system to share information between custom authorities of EU Member States about suspected cases of illegal practices.


The IUU regulation has three core components:

ICONS1. Catch certification scheme
Only marine fisheries products validated as legal by the competent flag state can be imported to or exported from the EU.


                              2. Third country carding process
ICONS2The Regulation enables the EU to enter into dialogue with non-EU countries that are assessed as not combatting IUU fishing effectively. If third countries fail to put in place the required reforms in a timely manner, sanctions, including trade bans on their fisheries products, can be imposed.


                               3. Penalties for EU nationals 
ICONS3EU nationals who engage in, or support IUU fishing anywhere in the world, under any flag, face substantial penalties proportionate to the economic value of their catch, which deprive them of any profit, thereby undermining the economic driver.


Successes of the IUU Regulation:

Since 2010, the Commission has investigated more than 200 cases involving vessels from 27 countries. As a consequence, sanctions against almost 50 vessels and roughly amounting to 8 million EUR have been imposed by flag and coastal states and both legislative and administrative reforms to improve catch certification and fleet monitoring have been introduced in several third countries.

Since 2012, the EU has warned “yellow carded” 23 countries, “red carded” 4 countries and delisted 11 countries (see map).

So far, 91 third countries have notified the Commission that they have the necessary legal instruments, the dedicated procedures and the appropriate administrative structures for the certification of catches by vessels flying their flag.

The European Commission has entered into dialogue with more than 50 third countries to assess the adequacy of their systems and frameworks to combat IUU fishing in line with international law.


For further information please see the European Commission’s website on illegal fishing