IUU fishing foc'sle

A view from the FOC'SLE #3: IUU - Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing

BLOG | July 2022

Welcome back to the Foc’sle!

From our perch here on the bows, we can see fishing boats ahead……which brings me to this month’s topic of IUU – Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing.

First, you may ask why it is so important that commercial fishing should be regulated? Who makes these regulations and how are they enforced?

Commercial fishing over the past 40 or 50 years has seen major changes in fish finding technology and immense growth in the market demand for seafood of all kinds. To look back at the North Atlantic fishery, as an example, in the late 1940s and 50s, Governments monitored fish stocks by reported catch from defined sea areas monthly.

Catches saw no appreciable decline until the late 60s when they completely crashed! What happened was that no allowance was made for improved catching technology, so the catch volume remained fairly static, but the actual fish biomass dropped rapidly, until stocks were almost wiped out. Drastic curtailment of commercial fishing in these areas over many years following has seen the fish stocks returning, hopefully to a sustainable level.


Littoral Governments, and the ‘alphabet soup’ organisations (ICCAT, WCPFC for example) have attempted to assess fish stock levels and prescribe sustainable catch quantities. But the effort comes to naught if the boats catching the fish do so without the required permits and do not report their catch. And worse, use equipment that is below the specified limits.

Unfortunately, the chief IUU culprits are not local artisanal fishermen, but in the main tend to be large corporations who are fully aware of what they are doing and simply ignore the effects of their actions in the chase for profit.

If caught, however, penalties may be high; Indonesia has had a policy of confiscating boats found fishing illegally and sinking them. There have also been some well-reported international sea-chases where various navies have chased and finally caught IUU offenders. So, the stakes are high…. good profits if not arrested, but a disaster if they are!

The international aspect of high seas fishing must not be overlooked. It is common for boats from one country to obtain fishing permits from another, and one bright spot in the picture is seen in the Central Pacific, where several island nations have joined together to enact and enforce fishing permit schemes. The result is that these island nations now see very significant benefits from the sale of permits (and catch quotas) to foreign boats. The foreign boats carefully comply with the terms of the permits, fish stocks remain at sustainable levels, and the industry in general remains on a stable economic level.

Some, not-so-bright spots exist, however, particularly in the deep South Atlantic and South Pacific off Argentina and Chile, and in the mid-Atlantic off West Africa.

IUU has an impact much wider than simply over-fishing. The potential political, and even military, consequences of a complete collapse in a fish stock cannot be over-emphasized. Recall back in the 60s when North Atlantic cod stocks crashed, British vessels frequently fished in Icelandic waters. The Icelandic Navy responded, and so did the Royal Navy, resulting in the famous “Cod Wars”. These involved much pushing and shoving of boats and warships and throwing of wet cod. But fortunately, no shots were fired. Any future ‘fish war’ may not be fought in such a benign manner.

Another continuing and shocking aspect of IUU is modern slavery.

Do join me up here on the Foc’sle next month, when we will look at the issue of fishing crew, how they are recruited and what their working conditions may be, and I will leave it up to you to decide if this amounts to “Modern Slavery”.


The Lookout Man

capt jon elliot coastal marine

About The Lookout Man

Captain Jon Elliott

Capt. Jon began his seafaring career in 1960.  He spent 11 Years in Taiwan running US Lines and then moved to Singapore in 1980 where he eventually joined Matthews Daniel in Singapore in 1989 and becoming Far East Managing Director. Capt. Jon started his own company Elliott Associates Pte Ltd after his retirement to bring an enhanced level of loss prevention to the Asian Marine industry. Capt. Jon is a consultant to Coastal Marine Asia Holdings Limited in our Loss Prevention Division providing technical guidance to our underwriters, whilst arranging crew and management loss prevention training for some of our insureds.

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