Four Reasons Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Affects Us and What We Can Do about It

7 June 2021 (FAO)* — Don’t let the words put you off: Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has a greater impact on your life than you may realise.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one of the biggest threats to our oceans. ©Cristiano Minichiello

IUU fishing is one of the biggest threats to our oceans, impacting the sustainability of fisheries, the livelihoods of fishers and coastal communities and the protection of aquatic ecosystems. It also impacts consumers who could be cheated in terms of what fish they are buying, where it comes from or how it is caught.

Buying fish products originating from IUU fishing, even unknowingly, means indirectly supporting unsustainable practices or criminal activities that are often linked to them. You can do your part to support sustainable fishing by carefully choosing what to buy and eat.

Here are four reasons you should care about IUU fishing and tips on what you can do about it:

1.      IUU fishing impacts the sustainability of aquatic resources and threatens vulnerable ecosystems. 

Tip: Learn about overfished species and shop for sustainable alternatives. 

IUU fishing violates conservation and management measures designed to protect aquatic environments and ensure that species are not overexploited or threatened.

When fishers use prohibited gear, fish unauthorised species, catch excessive quantities, fish out of season, misreport catch quantities or operate in vulnerable and protected areas, their actions threaten the sustainability of aquatic living resources and damage fragile habitats, ranging from mangroves to coral reefs. Overfishing often leaves the breeding stock so depleted that the fish cannot replenish themselves.

As a consumer, you can read about the vulnerable and overfished speciesin your area and make sure that the fish and other aquatic products you buy are not under threat.

Buying fish products originating from IUU fishing means indirectly supporting unsustainable practices. Read up on vulnerable and overfished species and shop responsibly. Top: ©FAO/Cristiano Minichiello Bottom: ©FAO/Miguel Riopa

2.      IUU fishing costs the global economy billions of dollars every year.

Tip: Look for the source of the fish and support fishers who follow regulations.

There are hidden costs associated with IUU fishing. It is a theft of resources and adds billions of dollars to the costs borne by consumers and the global community. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s total catch comes from IUU fishing and, in some regions such as the coastal waters of some developing countries, it can be up to 40 percent.

When trade documents are falsified to avoid duties and tariffs, or fish are shipped through various countries to avoid taxation, or illegal catches are transferred at sea to other vessels to facilitate their landing, it affects all of us. This can also lead to lost job opportunities and lower export earnings.

Consumers can also be misled as IUU fishing is often linked to fish fraud, such as short-weighting products, species substitution, mislabelling as well as false advertising. These kinds of activities are not only illegal but seriously undermine consumer confidence.

However, traceability measures backed by FAO are making a difference by requiring fishers and producers to provide more information about their products, from the catch to the consumer. Catch Documentation Schemes (CDS) also supported by FAO trace the origin and movement of fish from the point of capture to the market. These schemes have played a critical role in restoring and increasing the numbers of Toothfish, Bluefin tuna and Southern Bluefin tuna.

As a consumer, look for the point of origin and means of production on the labels. This is a good indication that the fish has undergone the necessary tracking and safety regulations.

3.      IUU fishing is linked to plastic aquatic litter and indiscriminate killing of species.

Tip: Support recycling or clean-up efforts and, if you are a fisher yourself, find out how to properly maintain and dispose of your gear.

There is a direct link between IUU fishing and fishing gear abandoned at sea. Around eight million tonnes of plastic litter, up to 10 percent of which is estimated to come from the fisheries sector, ends up in the ocean every year. Some of it comes from  vessels engaged in IUU fishingwhich dump their fishing gear when they fear getting caught. Abandoned fishing gear can trap and kill other species of fish, including endangered and vulnerable ones, from turtles to certain shark species.

As a consumer and concerned citizen you can report abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear when spotted or supporting recycling and buy-back programs for fishing gear.

Choose legitimately-caught fresh fish that supports local coastal communities. ©FAO/Cristiano Minichiello

4. IUU fishing harms the poorest of the poor.

Tip: Choose fresh, seasonal and locally available fish that supports coastal communities.

IUU fishing can damage the communities that rely on fisheries for their livelihoods and food security. Coast dwellers or island communities in particular depend on the ocean for their food and economic survival, so it is vital that their waters are managed in a way that sustainably provides livelihoods and nutrient-rich food sources.

Small-scale fishers that follow the rules and regulations are particularly affected. They are among the world’s most vulnerable and often receive a smaller share of economic benefits than the processors and retailers they supply.

IUU fishing, combined with a changing global workforce, means that more migrant workers are employed at a low cost by the fisheries sector, sometimes even leading to forms of modern slavery. Lack of training, inadequate language skills and little enforcement of safety and international labour standards make these fishers particularly vulnerable.

Whether at home or traveling abroad, choose locally sourced fish species that are fresh and in season and ask whether they have been sourced legally. For packaged or canned fish, you can look at the FAO fishing area on the label to certify that your fish has come from local sources.

We all need to play our part

Through its Global Capacity Development Programme, FAO supports States to strengthen their capacity to combat IUU fishing. Check if your government is a Party to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) which aims to combat IUU fishing by prohibiting foreign vessels engaging in this activity from entering or using its ports. The more ports close their doors to IUU fishing, the healthier our oceans can be.

As a consumer you can make a difference too by making informed choices about what you buy. Together with governments and the relevant authorities, we can do our bit to stop IUU fish from finding their way to our plates. Sustainable fishing starts with all of us.

Learn more


2021 Human Wrongs Watch



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