Global losses to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are estimated to be as high as $23.5 billion annually. Illegal operators are driven by money and key hotspots for their operations include the major tuna fisheries in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and West Africa.  

Large scale illegal fishing often goes hand in hand with other criminal activity, these are either as a result of the illegal fishing operation (e.g. tax evasion, money laundering) or are linked to the activities of transnational organised crime such as drugs smuggling, human trafficking or the trade in illegal wildlife products.

Stopping illegal fishing requires action at local, national, regional and international levels.

Vessel Identity

Illegal operators use vessel identity fraud to get away with illegal fishing. This can be one vessel illegally using several names or flags or several vessels using the same name. Mandatory IMO numbers are needed to help stop identity abuse.


Flags of non-compliance

Flag States who sell their flag to fishing vessels without checking the history of the vessel, that it is safe and seaworthy, that it is the vessel it claims to be and who do not take responsibility for the actions of the vessels are known as flags of non-compliance.


Human trafficking

Human trafficking occurs when workers are tricked into working on fishing vessels: their wages are unpaid, they live and work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions and they are far from land for months or years at a time with no opportunity for escape.



At sea transhipments are one of the major missing links to understand where illegally caught fish finds its way to the market. Unauthorised transhipment enables illegal operators to avoid port controls and to maximize profits.


Shark finning

Shark fins attract a premium price in the Asian market, so are cut off whilst the rest of the shark is thrown overboard often still alive. Unable to swim properly, they suffocate or die of blood loss from their huge wounds.


Market Access

Trade-based measures play a huge role in stopping illegal fishing and increasing compliance. For example, the EU, as a major market for fishery products, are driving change through the EU-IUU regulations introduced in 2010.


Blast fishing

Highly destructive and illegal, blast fishing destroys the marine environment, killing marine creatures indiscriminately, reducing future catches, affecting food security and the livelihoods of fishing communities.


Securing Convictions

Identifying illegal operators is difficult, but bringing them to justice, securing convictions and achieving sanctions that match the severity of the violations and that act as a deterrent is challenging.



Fisheries observers are the “eyes and ears” of the sea, often working far from land for weeks or even months at a time in difficult and dangerous conditions, collecting the scientific information vital for management of fish stocks.