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Illegal, Unreported And Unregulated Fishing Impact On Economy And Marine Life

With changing time, threat to maritime has evolved from piracy to Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU). Fishing index which data illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in 152 countries, has announced China 'the worst offender of 2021'[1]. China believed to be accounted for 85 to 90 percent of IUU[2]. Illegal fishing by China in own and other countries coastal waters has raised both socio and economic problems.

Recently, on 24May, 2022 the leaders of Quadrilateral security Dialogue known as Quad meet to deal with illegal fishing by China in global waters. Illegal fishing by china has affected the livelihood of small fishers of other countries along with the maritime environment. It has endangered the rare species and coral life in marine. Bycatch, refer to catching of useless or unrequired animals, lead to discard of protected and endangered species. The illegal fishing leads to overfishing, which depletes the population of fish in waters causing decrease in number of reproduction.

Under the United Nation Convention on Laws of sea, the coastal countries have right over 200 nautical miles 'Exclusive Economic Zone'[3]. The country has explicit right over the natural resources and can use the EEZ for economic purpose. To reduce the number of illegal fishing in coastal water, strong policies needs to be implement.

However, fishing in the area beyond the EEZ known as High seas[4] may not be illegal but still it cause depletion in maritime environment. The issue of illegal fishing can be overcome by strong control over market and consumption of artificial animal protein, which will result in increase number of reproduction in fishes and stable marine life ecosystem.

Marine life has the most biological diversity on the planet[5] and this diversity covers 71 percent of oceans on earth's surface[6]. The marine life is source of food, oxygen, employment, economy and many other aspects, which are significant for human being and its development. However, with the increase in population, its ecosystem is being comprised with deep ocean mining, overfishing, offshore drilling, industrial, agricultural and residential waste, oil spilling, noise etc.

Overfishing is the aspect, which is causing exceptional harm to this ecosystem. Fisheries being the source of food are being harmed by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. IUU activities have increased immensely over past 20 years in national jurisdictions and high seas. The cause of activities is the lack of stringent laws and policies.

IUU fishing Impact worldwide:
  1. Meaning
    Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) is an umbrella word, which is inclusive of various fishing activities. IUU activities are contradictory to efforts of states to conserve and manage the fishing stocks. These terms has been understood by International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) of Food and agricultural organization of United Nations[7] as follows:
    1. Illegal fishing: It refers to fishing conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters of state jurisdiction without state permission, vessels with states flags who are parties to regional fisheries management in violation of national laws and international obligations.
    2. Unreported fishing: It refers to unreported or misreported fishing stocks to relevant regional fisheries management.
    3. Unregulated fishing: It refers to those vessels which are without nationality or to the area or fishing stocks where no law for management of fisheries exist and state is under obligation to protect the fisheries.
  2. Statistics of IUU
    IUU fishing index was introduced in 2019 to analyze overall performance of 152 countries in combating IUU activities. It analyzes the countries on basis of 40 indicators and score on coastal, flag, port and general responsibilities. The nearest to 1 are best performing and to 5 are worst performing.

    1 fish in every 5 fish caught is through IUU[8], which is responsible for 11-26 million tons fish loss. This loss is estimated to hold US$10-23 billion economic value[9]. China has been ranked worst performer in preventing IUU activities. China is the country with highest number of registered fishing vessels, which are around 17,000 and around 1,000 lodged under various flags of convenience. However, USA and European union have 285 and 225 registered vessels, respectively.[10]

    China with depletion of fisheries in South and East China Sea has started to intrude in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Oman and Yemen. Distant water fleets are intruding to Indian Ocean and western coastline of South Africa. It is estimated that 40percent[11] of fish caught from the west coastline of Africa are through IUU activities due to which African states near west coastline like Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal are experiencing loss of approximately 3 billion USD annually[12]. 34 percent and 33 percent are the next highest proportion of total IUU fishing in west central Pacific Ocean and northwest Pacific Ocean, respectively.

    Furthermore, EU is accused of overfishing yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is surrounded by Asia, Africa and Australia but EU is the largest harvester of tuna. Spain and France, nations of EU are harvesting in Indian Ocean with 43 vessels. In 2019, it was estimated that they caught 70,000 tons of yellowfin tuna more than Indian Ocean coastal states[13].

    Russia rank second in IUU fishing activities. Russia is second biggest exporter for crab in the world[14]. The United States and the EU account for nearly half of Russia's overall crab exports, according to Rosrybolovstvo, 'the country's fishery agency'[15].
  3. Impact on Economy
    Illicit trading of fish stocks accounts the loss of US $16 to US $50 billion while losses to countries tax revenue accounts US $2 to US $4 billion[16]. Loss from illicit trade has detrimental effects on individuals, society, and governments as well as nature. Over three

    Billion people depends on marine and coastal biodiversity for livelihood[17], of which around 200 million are occupied in fisheries. Illegal fishing directly affect these small fisherman and job opportunities arising from fish stocks transportation leading to poverty and food insecurity.

    The IUU practices by states are affecting the small-scale fisherman in the neighboring countries and overall economy of developing or poorer countries. China provide high rate of subsidies, which encourage overfishing eventually to illegal one. These subsidies depress developing or poorer countries prices and exports. Heavy subsidies by china have reduced income of fisherman around the world.
  4. Impact on Marine life
    Environmental loss from illegal fishing accounts more than economical loss as it directly affects the marine ecosystem. With the increasing population, demand for seafood or animal protein has also increased. To meet increased demand of today, states are exploiting nature both on land and water, which imbalances the ecosystem. Illegal fishing creates barren Ocean causing steady increase of IUU activities in high seas.

    Illegal fishing has immensely affected the fish stock in developing countries coastal regions. Fishing vessels are introduced to ocean in large number, which outrun the power of fishes to replenish their stocks. These vessels often use prohibited gear, which catches the non-targeted species like turtles, sharks or dolphins, which leads to discard of protected or endangered species. Due to unreported fishing stock, the government is unable to manage the required amount of fisheries into marine ecosystem.

    Not only illegal fishing, but the waste of fishing vessels also affects the marine ecosystem. It is estimated that each minute 15 tons of plastic is discarded into the ocean[18], which inhabit for eternity. The sunken ship, discarded plastic waste or fishing net, oil spill, noises and other, disturbs the peaceful habitat of aqua world. With climate change and exceeding presence of carbon dioxide, marine water become more acidic and its pH level drops.

    Continuous change in the temperature effects the reproduction cycle of species. This exploitation cause irreparable loss to coral reefs and wildlife on seabed. Removal of IUU activities will eliminate marine insecurity, piracy and help to restore or replenish fish stocks, which are on the verge of extinction.
Strategies to eliminate IUU fishing
Illegal fishing is the global issue, which can be dealt only with laws and policies applicable globally. This objective can be achieved with the unification of states effort to deal with illegal fishing. Various international instrument like 2001, International plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IPOA-IUU), 2005 Model scheme on port state measures to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and later in 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measure to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (PSM Agreement) has been adopted.
  1. International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing by Food and Agriculture organization of United Nation. [19]
    IPOA-IUU is the instrument, which is applicable on all the states, entities and fishers. FAO committee on fisheries approved the plan on 2nd march, 2001. Illegal fishing does not existed in 1982,United Nation Convention on Laws of Seas (UNCLOS), it was first termed in Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), 1997. It was recognized by European Union in CCAMLR that IUU fishing is causing irreparable damage and requires combine efforts of all the flag and coastal states. Hence, IPOA-IUU is the first instrument adopted for dealing with this cause.

    Objective of this plan is to prevent, deter and eliminate the illegal fishing with combine efforts of states, which included establishment of Regional fisheries management organization (RMFO). The state can make laws in accordance to Code of Conduct for responsible fisheries, 1995[20] and United Nation Convention on Laws of Sea, 1982. A proper and effective monitoring, control and surveillance system for ensuring the implementation of laws is to be established. Number of flagged fishing vessels, their owner, fish stocks, abandoned fishing vessels to be recorded by the authorized organization.

    After adoption of IPOA-IUU, secretary-general FAO proposed a draft on 'Port state Measures of Foreign fishing vessels', 2002. It discussed about role of state to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing along with the identification of issues incorporated in Regional Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to be known as 'Model Scheme'. 'Model scheme on port state measures to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing' was adopted in 26th Committee on Fisheries of FAO, 2005[21].

    'Model Scheme' and IPOA-IUU both are soft laws in nature. Hence, they are not legally binding upon the member states.

    In 61st United Nation General Assembly, states were encouraged to develop an FAO instrument based on Model Scheme and IPOA-IUU, which is legally binding. Hence, in 2009 Agreement on Port State Measure to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (PSM Agreement) was adopted, which was hard law in nature. The objective of the PSM Agreement is to "prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing through the implementation of effective port State measures, and thereby to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems".

    Later, Guidelines regarding Flag state responsibilities were adopted on 28 February 2013 and were endorsed by the FAO COFI at its 2014 session. This is because, according to FAO, "some States, after authorizing vessels to fly their flags, fail to meet their obligations under international law with respect to the supervision and control of these vessels" or "do not provide proper authorizations for their vessels to fish once they assume the State's flag".

    Though the guidelines are soft laws but it can be assumed that FAO may in future adopt them as hard laws similar to 'Model Scheme' as flag state responsibilities plays a very important role in combating IUU fishing. Guidelines primarily deal with areas beyond national jurisdiction or high seas. They can be applicable to areas of national jurisdiction or EEZ only with the consent of state. International instrument does not involve state private affairs as it could harm their sovereignty. Hence, most states may not be ready to accept the Guidelines to be applied, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, in their territorial seas and EEZs yet.
  2. Sustainable Development Goal 14: United Nation
    In UN Summit, 2015, on the 2030 Agenda: "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", 17 Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) were adopted. These SDGs cover broad range of social and economic development issues. SDG 14 is about " life below water". The first seven targets are known as 'outcome target', which are as follows:
    • Target 14.1 Reduce marine Pollution
    • Target 14.2 Protect and restore ecosystem
    • Target 14.3 Reduce ocean acidification
    • Target 14.4 Sustainable fishing
    • Target 14.5 Conserve coastal and marine areas
    • Target 14.6 End subsidies contributing to overfishing
    • Target 14.7 Increase the economic benefits from sustainable use of marine resources
    The last three targets are known as 'means of achieving' targets, which are as follows:
    • Target A. Increase scientific knowledge, research and technology for ocean health
    • Target B. Support small-scale fishers
    • Target C. Implement and enforce international sea law
According to the 2020 report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, the current efforts to protect oceans, marine environments and small-scale fishers are not meeting the need to protect the resources[22]. Subsidies have been provided to developing countries to enhance their fishery stocks and trade. However, subsidies are beneficial only for short term and would have adversary affects in long term. Though, COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been beneficial for ocean as the pollution and pollutant reduced but it is estimated that 12 billion single-used face masks are being thrown out monthly which poses a large threat to human health and the surrounding environment[23].

Possible solutions:
  1. Eliminating subsidies:
    Subsidies were introduced to address social equity issues and conservation concerns, and to incentivize economic growth. Subsidies helped developing nation in economic growth and industrialization process. China provides largest number of subsidies. Hence, when it provides subsidies to trawlers on manufacturing of fleet, fuels or fishers, it leads to illegal fishing. Subsidies on illegal fishing, overfished and overcapacity vessels needs to be eliminated.

    No subsidies on overfishing and overcapacity vessels will be more effective than illegal fishing as illegal fishing is inclusive of both. Hence, elimination of subsidies on overfishing and overcapacity vessels will automatically result in lack of IUU fishing. SDG 14, target to end subsidies contributing to overfishing in Target 14.6.
  2. Hard laws:
    Hard laws are the laws, which have legal binding power. Absence of hard laws leads to immense increase of IUU fishing. However, international agreement prefers soft laws over hard laws as they are flexible and immediate to needs. Hard laws bind the party for long term and are rigid nature as require long procedure for amendments.

    Soft laws are adopted as hard laws, when the required objective is being achieved and nations consent to these benefits for long term. For instance, the 'Model scheme on port state measures to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing', 2005 which was soft law and later in 2009, 'Agreement on Port State Measure to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing' was adopted as hard law.
  3. Better fishing vessels tracking system:
    There is no limit on the number of fishing vessels a country can own. Hence, there are large numbers of registered and non-registered fishing vessels present in ocean. A better tracking system of vessels is required along with the internationally recognized unique identification number.
  4. Ban on trade:
    Countries, which are the continuous and worst offender of illegal fishing should be banned from trade of fisheries. For instance, European Union issued yellow card to Taiwan over continuous IUU fishing. EU lifted this yellow card in 2019, acknowledging the progress and major upgrade of its fisheries legal and administrative system[24].
  5. Recovery Plan:
    Scientist have laid down nine key components to form the basis of a recovery plan: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna, and the deep sea. If we get this plan correctly, we could abundance of marine life recovery by 2050. Salt marshes and sea grasses can lock away carbon in the atmosphere, for example, while mangroves have proven to be effective barriers against floods and waves. However, the process will require massive effort in terms of finances and international cooperation[25].
IUU fishing is a serious challenge that threatens both fisheries resources as well as livelihood of fisherman. Due to its negative consequences, many international strategies and agreement have been adopted and implemented. IUU fishing poses a direct threat to food security and socioeconomic stability in many parts of the world.

Developing countries that depend on fisheries for food security and export income are most at risk from IUU fishing. Huge economic and environmental loss incurs due to IUU fishing. Better tracking system, true information sources, combined efforts of state and improved policies and laws can help in eliminating IUU fishing and recovering marine life.

  1. Do Not hyperlink: IUU Fishing Index, 2019, available at:
  2. Id.
  3. Part V- Exclusive Economic Zone, available at:
  4. Common fishery term, available at:
  5. Rachel J.Baird, Methods and Technologies in Fish Biology and Fisheries, (Springer, Dordrecht, volume 5, 2006)
  6. How much water there on earth, available at: (last visited on December 30, 22)
  7. What is IUU Fishing, available at: (last visited on December 30,22)
  8. IUU Fishing, available at: (last visited on December 30, 22)
  9. The toll of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated, available at: (last visited on December 30, 22)
  10. Harshita Kanodia, "IUU fishing in Indian Ocean: A Security Threat", The Diplomatist (June 9, 2022)
  11. Alisha Rajaratnam, "Understanding IUU fishing", Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, October 20, 2022, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  12. Id. at 11
  13. Karen MC Veigh, "EU accused of neocolonial plundering of tuna in Indian Ocean", The Guardian, March 5, 2021, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  14. Frozen crab, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  15. With few alternatives, fears grow that Russia's crab harvesters may suspend fishing over export bans, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  16. U. R. Sumaila, D. Zeller, L. Hood, M. L. D. Palomares, Y. Li and D. Pauly, "Illicit trade in marine fish catch and its effects on ecosystems and people worldwide", Science Advances, February 26,2020, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  17. People depends on marine and coastal biodiversity for livelihood, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  18. Sustainable goal 14, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  19. International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, 2001
  20. UN General Assembly, The Sustainable Goal Report 2022, UN GOAR, UN Doc N20/108/02 (July 7, 2022)
  21. Fisseha Shiferie, "Improper disposal of face masks during COVID-19: unheeded public health threat", The Pan African Medical Journal", 2021
  22. Illegal fishing: EU lifts Taiwan's yellow card following reforms, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)
  23. Here's the plan we need to follow to replenish marine life by 2050, available at: (last visited on December 30, 2022)

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