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Photo: Directory of Fisheries.Photo: Directory of Fisheries

What is IUU fishing and marine living resource crime?

24.10.2011 // Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and marine living resource (MLR) crime constitutes one of the principal issues in contemporary marine resource management.

IUU fishing

IUU fishing is a concept that has emerged in the context of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) soft law to counter non-compliance with fisheries management regulations. FAO’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing describes the term IUU in detail. The plan was endorsed by the FAO council in 2001.

Illegal fishing refers to fishing conducted in violation of the applicable laws and regulations, or without permission from the relevant state or management organisation. The term is relevant both in fisheries that are under the jurisdiction of a coastal state and in high seas fisheries regulated by regional organisations.

Unreported fishing is fishing that has been unreported or misreported to the relevant national authority or regional organisation, in contravention of applicable laws and regulations.

Unreguated fishing refers to fishing by vessels without nationality, fishing by vessels flying the flag of a state not party to the regional organisation governing the relevant fishing area or species, or fishing on stocks with no applicable conservation or management measures in place.

IUU fishing comprises all activities that would come under one or more of these categories. It is of a complex and contested nature, as it can be separated into both management and criminal problems. It is worth noting that unreported and unregulated fisheries are not necessarily acts of a criminal nature. They are, however, a threat to the sustainable management of the living resources.

IUU-fishing needs to be addressed on the national, regional and international level, as the problem is of a transnational nature. 

Marine Living Resource crime

Marine Living Resource crime (MLR-crime) is a form of environmental crime and is activities of a criminal nature, which is punishable by law. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was first to define this type of crime as “criminal conduct that may cause harm to the marine living environment, typically offences established on the basis of contravention of marine living resource management and conservation”.

The term IUU-fishing is wide, as it deals with conduct that is not necessary illegal. However, it focuses largely on fishing operations and the activities of fishing vessels. The MLR-definition, on the other hand, includes criminal activities up- and downstream of the illegal fishing activities such as money laundering, corruption, document fraud or handling of stolen goods.

To read more about MLR-crime, please see http://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/Issue_Paper_-_TOC_in_the_Fishing_Industry.pdf


Extent and consequences of IUU fishing and Marine Living Resource Crime globally 

IUU fishing and marine living resource crime is generally not reported, and the scale is therefore difficult to quantify.  It has been suggested that IUU fishing accounts for up to 30% of total catches in some fisheries, which means that it is a serious threat to the sustainability of stocks and marine ecosystems. IUU fishing often leads to overfishing and overexploitation of marine living resources.  The lack of registration of catches also hinders accurate resource mapping and thus makes proper marine living resource management difficult.

Marine living resource crime is also detrimental to the fishing industry. Trade in illegally captured or harvested marine living resources disrupt the market and distort competition by putting legitimate fishers and fish farmers at a disadvantage. The fishing industry is also affected through the depletion of fish stocks and negative adjustments of fishing quotas that may result from IUU fishing and marine living resource crime. Such crimes also undermine the consumers’ confidence in seafood as a sustainable food source, and may impact negatively on the reputation of the fishing industry.     

Additionally, states lose revenue and income they would otherwise have gained through taxes, duties, and economic growth through legitimate investments and employment. IUU fishing and marine living resource crime are often closely associated with corruption, money laundering, trafficking and transnational organized criminal groups, which undermine the stability of developing states and perpetuate problems of weak governance. As marine living resources is an important source of animal proteins in many countries, depleting fish stocks resulting from marine living resource crimes may also threaten regional food security.


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