Illegal, unreported & unregulated (IUU)
Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, include all activities that have a detrimental impact on fish populations. It directly conflicts with management and conservation initiatives and the legislation put in place to maintain fish populations at a sustainable level.
IUU fishing includes the following activities:
Poaching vessels that fish without a license.
Using banned equipment e.g. drift nets.
Failing to report (or misreporting) catches or providing false data.
Catching juvenile or protected species.
Catching fish over the allocated quota.
Fishing in areas designated to other countries or organisations.
It is an international problem with between $10- $23 billion worth of fish being caught annually through IUU fishing. The main targets of IUU fishing are high value species such as cod, hake, lobster and prawns that live on or near the seabed.
IUU fishing has become more pronounced in the last 20 years as consumer demand increases, but legislation tightens as fish are overexploited. IUU fishermen meet the consumer demand making substantial profits, while the legal fishermen struggle to compete. Governments and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), work collectively to produce suitable legislation that will secure the fishing industry for future generations. However, without legislation, fish populations can crash, sometimes beyond recovery. In 1992, Canada’s cod population off the east coast of Newfoundland crashed, leading to the drastic closure of the local fishery, costing 40,000 people their jobs. The marine environment is still in a state of collapse today.
The impacts of IUU fishing are socially, environmentally and economically detrimental to our oceans and our fisheries industry as a sustainable food source.
Economic management practices are not effective enough to prevent IUU fish entering the market alongside legal products from fisheries. This means, some products entering supermarkets support this unsustainable practice and drive this criminal activity.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is having a detrimental impact on the oceans ecological systems. The biodiversity and productivity of these ecosystems are reduced as both targeted and bycatch species (accidental catches), are suffering population crashes, as they are caught in unregulated numbers. Hundreds of thousands of bycatch species such as dolphins, whales, sharks and sea birds get caught in IUU nets every year.
Efforts to rebuild fish stockpiles are prevented as juveniles are caught before they are old enough to reproduce. Furthermore, protected species are illegally caught, which can lead to both localised and international stock collapses. Particularly vulnerable species, such as the Bluefin Tuna have been pushed to the brink of extinction.
In developing countries, IUU fishing has a detrimental social impact as well. IUU fishing can most readily exploit developing countries oceans, because they lack the resources to enforce management and conservation practices. More than a billion people rely on fish as their main source of animal protein, so without it, malnutrition could become prevalent. Local fishermen that rely on this industry are outcompeted by IUU fishing activities; leading to food and livelihood instability.
Why we should care
IUU fishing is pocketing substantial profit whilst honest, hard-working fishermen and their fisheries, suffer great economic losses. Fisheries worldwide face economic disaster as fish populations are depleted below an economically viable level, leading to the collapse of the fishery industry. This could cost 38 million people their jobs worldwide, having a domino effect by impacting the retail sector, ecotourism and science industries, to name but a few.
As the management practices currently in place to prevent IUU fish entering the market are not working, consumers are unknowingly buying illegally caught fish. As consumer demand increases, supermarkets struggle to meet the demand and turn to unsustainable sources. If we do not demand that supermarkets provide products that come from sustainable sources, then we are unwillingly supporting IUU fishing.
Our ocean provides us with a wide range of ecosystem services. Most are vital to our survival and economy. Plankton provides more than half of the oxygen we breathe and coral reefs and mangroves provide storm protection. The ocean sequesters carbon, reducing the impact of climate change. Scientific and recreational opportunities in the ocean are also abundant and the biomass for food consumption is considerable e.g. Whale watching has become a $1billion industry in 87 countries worldwide, attracting 9 million tourists per year. Every species in the ocean has a crucial role to play in the wider ecosystem and the loss of one species could have catastrophic impacts on these ecosystem services. IUU fishing can destroy whole communities in developing countries, as local fisherman struggle to compete with the big IUU vessels. Without their fishery industry, 1 billion people could face mass starvation and famine.
The solution: what we can do
The main approach in combating IUU fishing has three important steps; to monitor, control and survey. The monitoring aspect includes collecting, measuring and analysing fishing activities, such as the species caught, the number of each species caught, the percentage of a catch that is discarded, or by-catch and what areas are fished in. To control IUU fishing, there needs to be tighter regulation that controls catching and processing activities. Surveying can include supervising fishing activity and enforcing the regulation. Regulation is essential as countries have been accused of misreported data. For example, China was accused of reporting unrealistically large catch figures in the 1990’s, because large production outputs led to the promotion of local government officials.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have an International Plan of Action for IUU fishing. This includes imposing import bans, black-listing vessels known for IUU fishing, and making it illegal to trade with known black-listed vessels. Furthermore, the action plan increases penalties if caught, allowing inspection of boats and providing proof of licensing certification at every dockyard.
If consumers do not question the sustainability of fish sources, government organisations lack the incentive to enforce regulations. Conservation and management measures will produce more work that requires funding, so until tackling IUU fishing becomes a priority, enforcement efforts will lack support and funding. Campaigning and fundraising can lead to greater awareness of this issue. If consumers demanded to know where their food came from, then supermarkets would have to produce food from reliable, sustainable sources and provide sufficient evidence to support this. Campaigning can lead to successful lobbying for the government to get involved. With pressure put on both supermarkets and the government, a lot more can be achieved.
So what can you do you help? You can email your supermarket today, or sign a petition to highlight your support for campaigns of this type. Even just educating your friends and family can have a significant impact. Fundraising can also help raise money for this vital cause and can increase awareness, so please get involved and help save our oceans.