In general terms, IUU fishing refers to fishing activities that are:
- illegal - meaning that the fishing activities violate applicable national or international laws or rules;
- unreported - meaning that the activities have not been reported in areas where such reporting is required; or
- unregulated - meaning that the fishing activities are inconsistent with relevant international laws or rules, but either the activities are not regulated, or the involved fishing vessels are not able to be regulated because they are flying the flag of a State that is not party to the relevant regional fishery management organization or they are flying no flag at all.
On 12 April 2007 NOAA Fisheries published a regulatory definition of IUU fishing for purposes of implementing the international provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act. This definition focuses primarily on impacts of IUU fishing on the interests of the United States, specifically defining IUU fishing as:
(A) Fishing activities that violate conservation and management measures required under an international fishery management agreement to which the United States is a party, including catch limits or quotas, capacity restrictions, and bycatch reduction requirements;
(B) Overfishing of fish stocks shared by the United States, for which there are no applicable international conservation or management measures or in areas with no applicable international fishery management organization or agreement, that has adverse impacts on such stocks; or
(C) Fishing activity that has an adverse impact on seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and cold water corals located beyond national jurisdiction, for which there are no applicable conservation or management measures or in areas with no applicable international fishery management organization or agreement.
IUU fishing, by its very nature, can jeopardize and undermine conservation and management efforts for sustainable fisheries. Further, vessels engaged in IUU fishing often flout other rules as well, including habitat protections, basic safety requirements, labor rights, and food safety measures. Recognizing the many concerns regarding IUU fishing and the inability of existing international instruments to effectively address those concerns, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations developed an International Plan of Action (IPOA) to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing. The IPOA-IUU encourages states and regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) to use all available measures in accordance with international law to combat IUU fishing, including port state measures, coastal state measures, market-related measures, national legislation, sanctions, economic incentives, education, and monitoring, control, and surveillance systems. In addition, the recently established Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network, is a significant contribution to global efforts to combat IUU fishing as nations voluntarily join their resources to increase their effectiveness in enforcing conservation measures designed to protect world fisheries and ecosystems.
- U.S. Regulatory Definition of IUU Fishing
- FAO International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing (IPOA-IUU)
- U.S. National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing
- International Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network for Fisheries Related Activities
IUU Fishing Vessel Lists
As a tool to combat IUU fishing activities, an increasing number of RFMOs have adopted procedures for listing vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing. These lists have been created to attach certain penalties to vessels included on them, including restriction of port access or unloading prohibitions. Some of these lists, like the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) IUU Vessel List, are intended to include only fishing vessels. Others, like the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) IUU List, can include transport vessels as well.
NOAA Fisheries, on behalf of the U.S. Government, issued a rule to implement obligations to apply certain penalties to vessels that are included on the IUU vessel lists of RFMOs to which the United States is a party. U.S. fishing and support industries are prohibited from engaging in commercial transactions with the vessels on the IUU vessel lists of the following RFMOs:
- Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) - IUU vessel list
- Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) - IUU vessel list
- International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) - IUU vessel list
- Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) - IUU vessel list
- Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) - (No direct link to the IUU vessel list available. Click on "MCS Scheme.")
The U.S. fishing and support industries should be aware that RFMOs to which the United States is not party also maintain IUU vessel lists. Individual operators should take care when interacting with these IUU vessels to avoid providing support or services that are prohibited by the relevant RFMO.
- Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) - IUU vessel list
- Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) - IUU vessel list
- Southeast Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO) - IUU vessel list
International Provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (MSA) of 2006 calls for the Secretary of Commerce to work multilaterally through various fora, such as RFMOs, to address IUU fishing and bycatch of protected living marine resources. Among other things, the Act amends the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to: (1) identify nations whose vessels have been engaged in IUU fishing or bycatch of protected living marine resources, (2) initiate consultations with identified nations and encourage them to take appropriate corrective action to address IUU fishing or bycatch, (3) certify to Congress whether appropriate corrective action is being taken by identified nations, and (4) produce a biennial report describing progress in implementing these international provisions. If an identified nation fails to take appropriate corrective action and receives a negative certification, the fishing vessels of that nation may be prohibited from offloading their fish or fish products in the United States, the importation of certain fish or fish products into the United States may be prohibited, and other measures may be taken.
In January 2009, NOAA Fisheries published the first biennial report, which identified six nations whose vessels were engaged in IUU fishing during 2007 and/or 2008. The identification of these nations opens the way for continued consultations between the U.S. government and officials of each of the six nations to encourage them to take corrective action to stop IUU fishing by their vessels. In addition to the identifications, the report summarizes progress the United States has made toward addressing IUU fishing by strengthening international fishery management organizations, improving monitoring and compliance of high seas fisheries, and providing assistance to developing States to improve those States’ capabilities for effective conservation and management of sustainable fisheries.
NOAA Fisheries also published a proposed rule outlining procedures for the identification and certification of nations whose vessels have been engaged in IUU fishing or bycatch of protected living marine resources. A draft environmental assessment of the proposed rule has also been completed and is available.
- Recent news and updates regarding implementation of the international provisions of MSA
- Proposed rule to implement identification and certification procedures to address IUU fishing and bycatch of protected living marine resources – public comments accepted through May 14, 2009
- Draft environmental assessment, regulatory impact review, and regulatory flexibility analysis for the proposed rule regarding identification and certification procedures
- 2009 Biennial report to Congress regarding implementation of the international provisions of MSA