Overview: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing

​Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is fishing which does not comply with national, regional or global fisheries conservation and management obligations. 

IUU fishing can occur within zones of national jurisdiction, within areas of control of regional fisheries bodies, or on the high seas. With the increasing demand for fishery products and the decline of fishery resources, the increasing incidence of IUU fishing has been of great concern to responsible fishing nations.

In a 1999 report to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the UN Secretary General stated that IUU fishing was "one of the most severe problems currently affecting world fisheries."

By hindering attempts to regulate an otherwise legitimate industry, IUU fishing puts at risk millions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs as valuable fish resources are wantonly depleted below sustainable levels. Disregard for the environment by way of high seabird mortality and abandonment of fishing gear gives rise to even more concern, as does the general disregard for crew safety on IUU boats. 

IUU fishing on the high seas is a highly organised, mobile and elusive activity undermining the efforts of responsible countries to sustainably manage their fish resources. International cooperation is vital to effectively combat this serious problem. By using regional fisheries management organisations as a vehicle for cooperation, fishing states, both flag and port states, and all major market states, should be able to coordinate actions to effectively deal with IUU fishing activity.

At the initiative of the United Nations FAO Committee on Fisheries, States developed the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. It is the first global legally-binding instrument that aims to reduce the occurrence of IUU fishing. Australia signed the Agreement on 27 April 2010 and intends to take binding treaty action to ratify these amendments.

IUU fishing is jeopardising the Australian harvest of fish stocks both within and beyond the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), and the long-term survival of fishing industries and communities. The recent incidence of illegal fishing of Patagonian toothfish in Australia’s remote Southern Ocean territories is a prime example of the damaging effects of unregulated fishing on the sustainability of stocks and the viability of the Australian industry. 

Australia’s remote sub-Antarctic territories of Heard and the McDonald Islands lie in the southern Indian Ocean about 4,000 km south-west of Perth. Since 1997, six vessels have been apprehended by Australian authorities for illegal fishing in the AFZ around Heard Island and the McDonald Islands in the sub-Antarctic. 

Illegal fishing also occurs in Australia’s northern waters and is largely undertaken by traditional or small-scale Indonesian vessels. 

Since 1974, traditional Indonesian vessels have been allowed access to a defined area of the Australian fishing zone (north west of Broome) in which Australia agrees not to enforce its fisheries laws – an area known as the MoU Box. IUU fishing by Indonesian vessels has occurred both in the MoU Box (through a failure to comply with agreed rules) and as a result of opportunistic fishing in other areas of the AFZ around the MoU Box. 

In more recent times, there has been a noticeable shift away from what could be termed 'traditional' fishing. Vessels are being found further east, as far across as the Torres Strait, and are largely targeting shark for its valuable fin.