Voices & Views

How to Fight Illegal Fishing


What illicit trade is worth up to $23 billion each year, threatens the environment, food security and the economies of developing countries, and is now the subject of a special taskforce at INTERPOL? The answer is illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

Experts from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries recently met in Brussels to discuss how the European Union and ACP countries can address this global problem.

What is IUU fishing?

IUU fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, threatens food security, disadvantages honest fishers, robs governments of revenue and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries.

In West Africa for instance, total catch is estimated to be 40 % higher than the reported amount.

Olivier Laboulle, West Africa Project Coordinator at the Environmental Justice Foundation, said another pernicious effect of IUU is that it forces legitimate fishers to use illegal methods such as pesticides and dynamite.

“Because of the reduced fish stocks they have been forced to fish in breeding grounds, basically exacerbating the problem further and threatening marine biodiversity themselves.”

What is the EU's responsibility?

Fish exports from developing countries more than quadrupled during the final two decades of the 20th century, and Europe’s €36 billion market is by far the most appealing destination for many ACP countries because it does not impose quotas or duties.

“No other market in the world offers this advantage and so historically since independence the countries have relied on that,” said Professor Martin Tsamenyi, an IUU expert and adviser to the Ghanaian Minister for Fisheries. “It’s not easy overnight going to find an alternative market… Immediately that is not a possibility.”

This unique position allows the EU to use its influence to improve global fisheries governance.

Dili, Timor-Leste. UN Photo/Martine Perret. Dili, Timor-Leste. UN Photo/Martine Perret.

What is EU policy?

Since 1 January 2010, only marine fisheries products certified as legal by the competent flag state (under whose laws the vessel is registered) can be imported to the EU or exported from the EU for further processing and re-importation.

Under the EU IUU Regulation, the EU can:

  1. list IUU fishing vessels either EU flagged or non-EU flagged,
  2. provide measures for EU Member States to take action against EU operators involved in IUU fishing
  3. pre-identify countries on their failure to comply with international law rules to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing, initiating a process of cooperation to address established shortcomings, and
  4. identify non-cooperative countries (flag, coastal, or port of market states) that fail to fulfil their duties in the fight against IUU fishing, where they fail to address established problems.

Where a state is listed as a “non-cooperating third country”, a set of measures are taken from the EU. For example, imports from that country and from any ship flying that national flag are banned and EU vessels are not allowed to fish in its waters.

The EU policy with respect to third countries aims to achieve structural changes in line with international law requirements. Export bans are considered the last resort. 

Non-cooperative countries: Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Guinea

Pre-identified countries: Korea, Ghana, Curaçao, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines

Source: (November 2014) http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-584_en.htm 


Is the EU approach working? 

Participants at the 38th Brussels Rural Development Policy Briefing heard success stories from ACP countries about the actions taken in the wake of warnings and bans.

Fiji faces a large monitoring task given its land area is just 1.5 % of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In 2012 it received a "yellow card" (pre-identification) warning from the EU and subsequently implemented a number of reforms, including:

    • Recruiting new staff to the Fiji Fisheries Authorities
    • A Revised Fiji National Action Plan on IUU
    • Revised legal provisions covering Fisheries Law and Fisheries Management
    • New management measures for key species including setting Total Allowable Catches
    • Improving control on vessels operating both in Fiji waters and in areas beyond national jurisdiction
    • Limiting licences within the EEZ and in areas beyond national jurisdiction
    • Working on Memorandums of Understanding with neighbouring islands states as well as the Fiji police, Navy and Financial Intelligence Unit from the Reserve Bank of Fiji

More information on Fiji's efforts to tackle IUU is available here. As a result of these and other measures the yellow card has now been removed.

In the following video Cesar Debens, principal adviser at DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, explains the changing nature of IUU and how countries can avoid being sanctioned by the EU.

In Ghana, Professor Tsamenyi said the EU’s decision to impose a "yellow card" was initially met with denial and non-comprehension.

“Agriculture is seen largely as crops and livestock. Nobody cared about fisheries,” Professor Tsamenyi said. “That actually led to a whole lot of things: management failures with law enforcement, inadequate legislation, and under-resourced fisheries administration.”

The EU decision to pre-identify Ghana has been a "wake up call" that has raised political awareness on the need to improve fisheries governance.

The country’s outdated 2002 legislation is now being modernised to:

        • revise legal provisions covering Fisheries Law and Fisheries Management
        • increase penalties to a minimum of $1 million
        • prevent the registration of vessels with a history of IUU fishing
        • make Vessel Monitoring System requirements mandatory for all vessels
        • require all Ghanaian fishing ships to land with certificates and to give 24 hours notice before landing
        • ratify the 2009 Port State Measures Agreement of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

More information about measures taken by Ghana is here.

This has been accompanied by high-level political support with fisheries given more autonomy from the Ministry of Agriculture with a Minister for Fisheries.

"Now [fisheries] is the subject of a cabinet subcommittee chaired by the fisheries minister, with the foreign minister, trade minister and attorney general all taking part. There is a report to the president every two weeks"

Ibrahim Sorie, Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the EU, told the meeting in Brussels his country would like to make defeating IUU a priority, but with limited resources it had chosen education, food security and state building as its three National Indicative Programmes under the 11th European Development Fund.

“With IUU regime compliance… we believe that we should be given special consideration to enable us to implement the programme,” he said. “I need to appeal – together with my colleagues from the region – for special consideration to be given to us as a fragile state, as a state that is struggling to handle the Ebola epidemic.”

Briefing document:

N°38 Fighting against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU): Successes from ACP countries.

Share knowledge and best practices on nutrition, biodiversity and agriculture on capacity4dev.eu

Public Group: Food & Nutrition Security - ROSA

Public Group: Biodiversity for Life

Public Group: Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme


Brussels Briefings:

To improve information sharing and promote networking CTA, DG DEVCO from the European Commission, the ACP Secretariat and Concord organise bimonthly briefings on key issues and challenges for rural development in the context of EU/ACP cooperation.



This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Isabelle Viallon at EuropeAid with support from the capacity4dev.eu Coordination Team. Teaser image courtesy of Prachatai.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


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ADE (Private Sector)

In addition to the task force, INTERPOL also launched a new initiative know as Infra Terra 2014, which falls under their Infra-Red Operation - a call to the public to help locate a list of fugitives wanted for environmental crimes, including illegal fishing.
Find out more in the B4Life group under the following Blog Post:

"INTERPOL seeks public assistance to locate environmental crime fugitives in global operation"