The I, U, and U in IUU Fishing - Oceana USA
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The I, U, and U in IUU Fishing

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, otherwise known as ‘IUU fishing’, is a major threat to our oceans. It depletes fish populations, damages marine ecosystems, and puts the people that catch and eat seafood at risk. Additionally, IUU fishing costs the global economy $26 billion to $50 billion every year, jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishers and fishing communities around the world. 

But what really is IUU fishing? 

The concept of IUU fishing can be complicated with many different illicit activities combined under one umbrella. Various governments, organizations, and management bodies can also have their own definitions of IUU fishing, which only adds to the confusion. However, the definition from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is commonly accepted. To help shed light on the I, the U, and the final U of IUU fishing, this post defines each type of illicit fishing activity and their individual impacts on the health of our oceans. 

Illegal fishing is any fishing activity that ignores regulations or violates laws. Violations can include fishing without a permit, catching protected species, ignoring catch limits, using prohibited fishing gear, fishing in closed areas, and more. The destruction from these activities on our oceans extends beyond fisheries – illegal fishing also threatens marine wildlife, coral reefs and other vital habitat, and steals fish from legal fishers.  

Unreported fishing is when fishing vessel operators misreport or fail to report their fishing activity and catch to relevant authorities. Most commonly, misreporting information involves purposefully hiding the number, size, or type of seafood caught. Unreported fishing complicates fishery management by making it harder to determine how much fish was actually caught in a given year, which is often used to determine how much catch is allowed in future years. Inaccurate and untruthful information can lead authorities to overestimate the fish populations and allow too many fish to be caught. As a result, unreported and misreported catch play major roles in the decline of fisheries.  

Unregulated fishing includes fishing for unmanaged species and fishing in unmanaged areas across the world. Unregulated activity often occurs on the high seas, or parts of the ocean that lie further than 200 miles beyond countries’ coastlines. These areas are largely lawless, with only small portions having any sort of regulations or management measures in place. The unregulated nature of the high seas encourages vessels to fish as they please, with no catch limits or quotas and with whatever destructive gear they choose, enabling the capture of devastatingly high numbers of fish. This practice threatens the sustainability and well-being of fish populations. 

Expanded Definition of IUU Fishing 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed a rule to expand the definition of IUU fishing to recognize the link between IUU fishing and forced labor. This is a huge opportunity for the United States, as the world’s largest seafood importing country, to take a stand. It is currently illegal to import products produced using forced labor. By expanding the definition, it ensures that the United States can take strong action against other countries engaged in IUU fishing – and ignoring human rights abuses in their fleets – which the current definition limits the agency’s abilities to do. But NOAA is still limiting the definition in other areas. That’s why we need your help. 

Urge NOAA to create a strong rule that addresses IUU fishing and puts an end to forced labor in the seafood sector: