What is IUU Fishing

As defined in the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing (IPOA IUU), illegal unreported and unregulated fishing refers to activities that contravene national laws and regulations, the conservation and management measures of Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs) and, where relevant, international law.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing plunders the ocean, weakens economies, depletes fish stocks, and undermines conservation and management efforts. It also jeopardises the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Illegal fishing refers to activities:

  • conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, without the permission of that State, or in contravention of its laws and regulations;
  • conducted by vessels flying the flag of States that are parties to a relevant regional fisheries management organization but operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures adopted by that organization and by which the States are bound, or relevant provisions of the applicable international law;
  • or in violation of national laws or international obligations, including those undertaken by cooperating States to a relevant regional fisheries management organization.

Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities:

  • which have not been reported, or have been misreported, to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations; or
  • undertaken in the area of competence of a relevant regional fisheries management organization which have not been reported or have been misreported, in contravention of the reporting procedures of that organization.

Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities:

  • in the area of application of a relevant regional fisheries management organization that are conducted by vessels without nationality, or by those flying the flag of a State not party to that organization, or by a fishing entity, in a manner that is not consistent with or contravenes the conservation and management measures of that organization; or
  • in areas or for fish stocks in relation to which there are no applicable conservation or management measures and where such fishing activities are conducted in a manner inconsistent with State responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.

IUU fishing behaviours include activities referred to as serious violations in the Fish Stocks Agreement, such as fishing without a valid licence, misreporting catch data, falsifying or concealing the vessel’s identity or itinerary, or obstructing the work of inspectors or enforcers. Further, European legislation establishes a presumption of IUU fishing in respect of activities such as engaging in unauthorised transhipments. IUU fishing can affect the food and work security of vulnerable human populations, and has deleterious consequences for economic development, as well as a devastating effect on ocean wildlife.

Being frequently covert in nature, IUU fishing activities undermine governance and derail initiatives to manage fisheries sustainably, directly affecting law-abiding operators that compete for the same stock whilst bearing more of the regulatory and financial burden.

The true scale of IUU fishing is difficult to calculate. Losses attributable to IUU fishing are estimated to be in the region 10 billion Euro annually.


International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing
Directorate General for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries of the European Commission
1995 Fish Stocks Agreement