Study Shows that Illegal Unrported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing nets Billions Of Dollars Per Year


Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko writes in Scientific American (8 May 2013) that Fish Piracy Costs Up to $23 Billion a Year. Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) Fishing or (Fish piracy as its called in this article) – is seafood caught that is illegally, not reported to authorities or outside environmental and catch regulations – represents as much as $10 billion to $23 billion in global losses each year, OCEANA (a non-profit conservation group) estimated Wednesday.

“Because pirated fish is sold on black markets, specifics of the economic impact are tough to decipher. But Oceana, a Washington-based organization, looked at the records of fish catches by country as reported to the United Nations, and then compared those statistics to seafood sales in various world markets. When these numbers didn’t match up, the group estimated the amount lost through fish piracy, a practice that U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco has called “one of the most serious threats to American fishing jobs and fishing communities.”

The report said illegal trade could account for 11 million to 25 million metric tons of seafood, a minimum of 20 percent of seafood worldwide. Illegal fishing targets some of the most expensive species, including shrimp, fugu pufferfish, lobster, whole abalone and sea urchin uni. Penalties are often a fraction of potential profit, the report found. In one U.S. case, an illegal catch worth up to USD 1 million brought a USD 3,500 penalty.

The report estimated that illegal trade threatens 260 million jobs dependant on marine fisheries. For example, the shark fin trade in Hong Kong suggests that three to four times more sharks are being killed than official reports say, with USD 292 million to USD 476 worth of shark fins sold. Oceana said that Florida law enforcement agents’ estimates showed that one illegal operator stole USD 1,400 a week from legal operators by exceeding the catch limit on king mackerel.

Fishermen who comply with legal standards can also lose business when they sell in the same market as illegal operators who don’t follow environmental or sanitary standards, the report found.

In addition, adults and children have been trafficked into service on illegal fishing ships, making a catch more lucrative, the report said. Annual black market sales of bluefin tuna may reach USD 4 billion, with the amount of illegally caught fish five to 10 times higher than the official catch, according to Oceana.”

IUU Fishing vessel from Gabon. Photo by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Source:

IUU Fishing vessel from Gabon. Photo by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Stealing Fish

According to the Scientific American article:

“Illegally caught Russian sockeye salmon is estimated to be 60 percent to 90 percent above reported levels, a loss of $40 million to $74 million, according to Oceana. Annual black market sales of bluefin tuna may reach $4 billion, with the amount of illegally caught fish five to 10 times higher than the official catch, the report said.

“I don’t think people think of fish as valuable, and when they think of crime, I don’t think they think about seafood,” Oceana senior scientist Margot Stiles said in a telephone interview. “But behind closed doors and out at sea, there’s all this money made by stealing fish.”

In the past, governments have stepped up enforcement to combat the problem, but that approach was limited. Stiles suggested a two-part solution: first, cut back government fishing subsidies, which ultimately pay for some of the illegal catch, and increase seafood tracking from its source to the consumer.

Using the same technology as in the package delivery industry, some large seafood dealers, markets and restaurants are already tracking fish. MJ Gimbar, chief fishmonger at Black Salt Fish Market in Washington, said his company’s program is inexpensive to implement and offers customers assurances about what they are buying: “It allows them to put a face with the fish.”

The market’s website offers species-specific information on the sources of its seafood [click here to access the black restaurant group website]. Oceana reported in February that one-third of seafood tested in the United States was mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.”

IUU Fishing

To access Oceana’s full report, please click here (Stolen Seafood: The impact of pirate fishing on our oceans).

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its 2013 Biennial Report to Congress on International Fishing Activities. There report can be obtained here. The National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA’s fisheries arm, identified 10 countries with: (1) fishing vessels engaged in illegal unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2011 or 2012, or (2) ineffective measures to prevent the unintended catch of protected species in 2012.

An FAO report addresses a number of questions with respect to Fishing capacity management and IUU fishing in the Asia-Pacific Region:

  • What are the greatest IUU fishing issues reported by member countries?
  • Where are vessels of the region that are engaged in foreign fishing operating?
  • Do countries of the region control IUU fishing in other countries or on the high seas by their nationals?
  • To what extent have national plans of action been developed to address IUU fishing?

According to the FAO Report:

“The Asian region accounts for about 50 percent of global wild capture fisheries production and about 90 percent of aquaculture production. The sustainable management of these fisheries resources, therefore, is an activity of global importance as well as being critical to countries of the region. However, the history of exploitation of wild fish stocks of the region has been one of sequential overexploitation, open access fisheries and low profitability. Despite this history, there has been a growing recognition in recent years of the need to manage fish stocks for long-term sustainability. This regional synthesis summarizes information, based on responses to questionnaires sent to 15 countries of the region and previously available information, on the current status of the management of fishing capacity and how countries of the region are addressing illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing by both national and foreign fleets.”

The FAO highlighted:

“A lack of policy and operational tools in the region was highlighted by many countries, with only 50 percent of the major fisheries having management plans. Methods for measuring fishing capacity, such as vessel licensing systems or census data, and catch and effort data systems are often being poorly developed and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) capabilities generally inadequate. IUU remains a major issue to be addressed although the recent Asia-Pacific Fisheries Commission (APFIC) “call for action” and the Regional Plan of Action for Responsible Fisheries, signed by 11 countries, may provide a template for regional action and coordination on this.”

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