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The International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated  Fishing (IPOA IUU) defines Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (hereinafter, referred to as IUU fishing) as those activities or actions which are contrary to national regulations and laws, the conservation and management measures of Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs), as well as International laws, wherever relevant.[1] Consequently, IUU fishing practices are illegal both domestically and internationally. It poses a serious threat to communities that depend on it for resources, commerce, and eventually the environment as well as to nations in terms of security. Therefore, broadly, in today’s time, IUU fishing activities are a major concern.


The term IUU fishing is made up of three main components: Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported fishing. However, they are not that exclusive in substance. For example, a vessel treading the waters illegally will not keep account of its activities and hence it goes unreported. [2]

Illegal Fishing refers to those fishing activities which are contrary to national and international laws, regulations, and customs. Unreported fishing is defined as fishing activities that do not comply with the local, state, international, or Relevant Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) reporting guidelines and are erroneously reported to the appropriate authorities.[3]Unregulated Fishing mostly takes place in those areas where there is an abundance of fish stock and the absence of any fixed management or conservation regulations or measures. Hence, they are largely out of step with the State responsibilities which are focused on the conservation of living marine resources[4] as per the International law. They are also considered unregulated when they take place in RFMO-managed areas and are conducted by vessels having no nationality, or a vessel flying a flag of a flag state which is not part of the RMFO in a manner inconsistent with the conservation measures.

These three components majorly undercut the regional and national efforts made by various governments and regulatory authorities and hinder progress made toward ensuring long-term sustainability for the future. IUU fishing also adversely affects those fishers who do act responsibly and in accordance with the terms of their fishing authorizations.[5] It also leads to the degradation of fish stocks and threatens marine biodiversity, food security, and communities that rely on fishing as a means of resource and livelihood. It also encourages corruption and exploits weak management regimes[6] that have little to no capacity or resources in order to ensure effective monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS).


Because it negatively affects marine life and governance frameworks, IUU fishing also poses a threat to a nation’s security. According to reports, the Bay of Bengal is a well-liked spot for IUU fishing in India. Illegal long lines and transhipment of tuna, which contravenes the conservation and management policies of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), is a problem that frequently arises on the high seas.[7] Consequently, the Coastal State and the IOTC have received zero to no reports regarding the same.[8] A common sight in these areas are ships flying flags of convenience, stateless ships using forged registry documents, ships hiding or without markings, and ships without documentation.

In actuality, the yellowfin tuna, whose population is declining and which is a close to endangered species, is the most often overfished species in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, when such activities take place on the high seas, security concerns are intensified. As a leading actor in the Indian Ocean region thanks to its strong infrastructure and technological developments in the area of marine exploration, China is a prime example. A number of reports have emerged stating that China has already overfished its own oceans and it has the capacity to deploy a number of vessels and trawlers all over the world which illegally disobey the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries including India.[9]

However, other than China, various communities, organizations, or agencies partake in IUU fishing due to the commercial incentives provided for misreporting, underreporting, and non-reporting. People may indulge in the same to avoid disclosing fishing of protected species or hiding activities in protected areas.

Another major effect is compromised data because it directly affects the stock assessments of fisheries. Stock assessment is important because it helps nations and international organisations evaluate the true picture and make contingencies to bring it back in line with sustainable future goals. Hence, it essentially sabotages the communities that depend on them for livelihood and resources.

As per a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), unregulated fishing is an aspect that is quite difficult to deal with. In reality, it brings out the shortfalls of the government in dealing with these illicit practices and critically challenges the security of international waters[10]. Additionally, these are not the only unauthorised activities occurring in the ocean. It coincides with offences like labour exploitation, forced labour, human trafficking, the smuggling of weapons and drugs, piracy, etc. Often, it frequently facilitates the financing of terrorists and sustains maritime terrorism.

As previously mentioned, IUU fishing has negative effects on the ecology. For instance, the fishermen routinely catch seabirds, turtles, whales, and sharks, among other mammals, including endangered species, using big plastic nets. This has a significant adverse impact on fish populations, and the marine ecosystem, and contributes to the ocean’s plastic garbage. Consequently, the food chains become unbalanced and disrupted. A severe negative impact is also felt on the communities that depend on fishing from an economic, social, and cultural perspective. Further, the larger fishing communities manage to dominate over the smaller ones due to the availability of better resources. Hence, one might conclude that ultimately, the countries with the smaller fishing communities would suffer economic deprivation. [11]


Even though the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adopted the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IPO-IUU) in June 2001, there is a long way to go. There is no straitjacket formula to remedy them but first of all, it must be noted that IUU fishing is a global problem. It is not the responsibility of a single nation or organisation to combat it.

As maintained by Tsamenyi, Kuemlangan, and Camilleri (2015) in the FAO report titled ‘Implementation Of The International Plan Of Action To Prevent Deter And Eliminate Illegal, Unreported And Unregulated Fishing’, while there has been considerable evolution in the range of national and international instruments directed at combating IUU fishing, “a number of definitional challenges remain”. [12]

In addition, this report shows that despite the difficulties in defining IUU fishing, there is a growing need to conduct ongoing, routine assessments. Because of the size of the ocean, no one nation or organisation can effectively address the problems caused by IUU fishing. In this regard, it is significant to note that there are a variety of advantages to such estimation, including improved scientific and policy advice, better socioeconomic conditions for legal fishermen, and the ability to target areas that need MCS (monitoring, control, and surveillance) operations.

Last but not least, one of the key developments to overcome this issue has been the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in relation to IUU fishing. It has been noted that IUU fishing activities thoroughly weaken the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have an otherwise strong standing at the international platforms.

According to reports on a global scale, China is the country that contributes the most significantly to IUU fishing worldwide. The 2021 IUU Fishing Index indicates that it is actually in charge of between 85 and 90% of IUU fishing activities that take place in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing also participates heavily in the practice of unreported squid catching and they frequently catch tuna when fishing for the same by claiming it to be a by-catch.

In addition to this, the key agencies and organizations involved are the United Nations (UN), the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which are aided by other regional authorities and domestic laws creating a strong front to tackle the issues highlighted above.

The most recent development in India’s case was the Summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal gathering of India, Australia, Japan, and the USA where they addressed and discussed issues relating to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific area. In this case, IUU fishing was given special consideration. According to a report, over 20% of the world’s catch is lost to IUU fishing every year to the tune of nearly 23 billion dollars in economic losses.[13]


Numerous attempts are being made at the regional, national, and international levels to monitor and manage these maritime operations as a result of the increase in technology development and information dissemination around the globe. No doubt that this will result in improvements to maritime rules and regulations, but advocacy is the key in this situation. Communities and people must be made aware of their rights and obligations, and there must be more agencies and organisations to support government authorities in keeping an eye on, managing, and surveilling the regions that are affected by this threat or that could become its potential targets.

Author(s) Name: Aakanksha Dasmesh (Amity University, Noida)


[1] ‘What is IUU Fishing?’ (IUU Watch) <> accessed 25 June 2023

[2]Anthony Bergin, ‘Bringing the Indian and Pacific Oceans together on IUU fishing’ (Observer Research Foundation, 14 December 2021)

<> accessed 25 June 2023

[3] ‘Understanding Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing’ (NOAA Fisheries)

<> accessed 24 June 2023

[4] ibid 3.

[5] ibid 1.

[6] ‘Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated  Fishing’ <> accessed 24 June 2023

[7] ibid 2.

[8] ibid 2.

[9] Harshita Kanodia ‘IUU Fishing in the Indian Ocean: A Security Threat’ (The Diplomatist, 9 June 2022) <> accessed 24 June 2023

[10] ibid 9.

[11] ibid 9.

[12] FAO, ISBN: 978-92-5-137937-0 (2023) FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries, No. 9, Suppl. 1, Vol. 1. <>

[13] Commodore Anil Jai Singh,  ‘The Scourge of Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing’ (Financial Express, 10 April 2023)

<> accessed 24 June 2023