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International Guidelines Target IUU Fishing

Plan to Fight IUU Fishing

NOAA outlines priorities to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing internationally in the recently published document, "Leveling the Playing Field". 

NOAA will work in collaboration with industry, NGOs, and international partners to implement the priorities outlined in this document.

March 22, 2013

The international community has taken a major step in the global fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. After 5 years of intense negotiations lead by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), countries have come together to support a process aimed at reducing IUU fishing by improving the accountability of flag states – countries that register fishing vessels and thereby authorize them to fly their flag.

The Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance Exit were adopted on February 8, 2013 and will be presented for endorsement by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) at its next meeting in June, 2014. The guidelines include recommended approaches to urge, encourage, and help countries comply with their international duties and obligations regarding the flagging and control of their fishing vessels. They also present possible actions in response to non-compliance.

“The FAO guidelines are a real international achievement,” said Dean Swanson of NOAA Fisheries International Affairs, who served as first vice-chairperson during the FAO negotiations and played a key role in the development of these guidelines. “IUU fishing is a global problem that can only be addressed through international cooperation. The fact that so many nations came together in the end to adopt the flag state guidelines is illustrative of a joint international commitment to end IUU fishing. We hope these guidelines will be used by regional fisheries management organizations as they adopt and help enforce fisheries management measures.”

FAO will monitor and report on implementation of the guidelines to COFI. It will also provide in-country technical assistance to countries requiring support, particularly developing nations – many of which lack the needed resources to implement such guidelines. That support may include capacity-building measures like the development of an adequate legal and regulatory framework; strengthening of institutional organization and infrastructure needed to ensure adequate control of vessels; the development or improvement of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) of fishing vessels, and training. 

What is IUU Fishing? 

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing generally refers to fishing conducted in violation of national laws or internationally agreed conservation and management measures in effect in oceans around the world.

IUU fishing undermines international efforts to sustainably manage and rebuild fisheries and creates unfair market competition for fishermen who adhere to strict conservation measures, like those in the United States. IUU fishing can devastate fish populations and their productive marine habitats, threatening food security and economic stability. Independent experts have estimated economic losses worldwide from IUU fishing to be between $10 billion and $23 billion annually. The United States is second only to China in the amount of seafood it imports. NOAA’s latest figures showed that 91 percent of the 4.7 billion pounds of seafood consumed in the United States in 2011 was imported.

Read our frequently asked questions on IUU fishing.