Last updated: 04 Jun 2023

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing negatively impacts sustainable fisheries, livelihood and world fish stocks. These unsustainable practices threaten local biodiversity and food security in many places around the world. Discover what organizations in Geneva and beyond are doing to address the issue at the global level.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Fisheries provide a vital source of food, employment, recreation, trade and economic well-being for people throughout the world. More than 820 million people depend on fisheries and aquaculture for food, nutrition, and income. However, efforts by the international community to ensure the sustainability of fisheries are being seriously compromised by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

What is IUU fishing?

According to the World Trade Organisation, IUU fishing refers to fishing activities conducted in contravention of national, regional and international laws; non-reporting, misreporting or under-reporting of information on fishing operations and their catches; fishing by stateless vessels; fishing in areas under the mandate of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations by non-party vessels; and fishing activities which are not regulated by states and cannot be easily monitored and accounted for.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IUU fishing activities are responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tonnes of fish each year, which is estimated to have an economic value of 10–23 billion USD. IUU fishing activities threatens sustainable management of our marine resources, a situation further exacerbated by overfishing.

Building on global efforts to foster long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources, the UN celebrated the first International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing on 5 June 2018. The date reflects the day when the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing officially entered into force as an international treaty. The entry into force of this agreement marks an historical event, as it is the first international legally-binding instrument specifically devoted to the fight against IUU fishing.

The day is the opportunity to draw attention to the threats posed by IUU fishing activities to the sustainable use of fisheries resources as well as to ongoing efforts to fight these activities.

IUU Fishing Index

The IUU Fishing Index, released by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and Poseidon – Aquatic Resource Management Ltd. in 2019, benchmarks countries’ vulnerability, prevalence and response to IUU fishing, based on a suite of 40 indicators.

International Cooperation to Fight IUU

Through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), governments around the world have agreed that conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources is essential for sustainable development.

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Target 14.4. By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

While countries have worked together to regulate IUU fishing through instruments under the FAO – such as the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the  Port State Measures Agreement -, important negotiations are carried out by WTO on the issues of fisheries subsidies.  Some forms of subsidies can indeed contribute to overfishing and IUU fishing, and have to be eliminated in accordance to SDG 14.6. At the 12th Ministerial Conference held in June 2022 in Geneva members secured an unprecedented package of decisions which “demonstrate that the WTO is, in fact, capable of responding to the emergencies of our time”, as pointed out by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In the outcome document (WT/MIN(22)/W/16/Rev.1), members recognized “global environmental challenges including climate change and related natural disasters, loss of biodiversity and pollution”, noting the “the importance of the contribution of the multilateral trading system to promote Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals” → Read the press release

MC12 marked a memorable moment as governments adopted an agreement on fisheries subsidies (WT/MIN(22)/W/22), after more than twenty years of negotiations. The agreement aims to curb harmful subsidies to stop depleting fishing stocks, while ensuring support to vulnerable communities which depends on these resources. Under this new treaty, subsidies for vessels and operators engaged in illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing are prohibited. It bans support for fishing in overfished stocks and for fishing in unregulated high seas. Provisions on special and differential treatment give more flexibility to developing countries. WTO members have committed to continue negotiations and discuss new rules at further meetings.

The role of Geneva

Various Geneva-based organizations or secretariats – listed below in alphabetical order – work actively to address overfishing, stop IUU fishing activities and promote a sustainable blue economy. UN system’s engagement with the issue also goes beyond Geneva, with organizations around the world involved, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES ensures that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants – including some listed commercially exploited aquatic species – does not threaten their survival.

Food and Agriculture Organization Liaison Office in Geneva

The FAO Fisheries Division works to strengthen global governance and the managerial and technical capacities of members and to lead consensus-building towards improved conservation and utilization of aquatic resources.

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

The Global Initiative is an independent civil-society organization, dedicated to seeking new and innovative strategies and responses to organized crime. They co-launched in 2019 the IUU Fishing Index.

International Institute for Sustainable Development

The IISD supports the current WTO negotiations to end harmful fisheries subsidies, recognizing the need to restore the sustainability of fish stocks while supporting livelihoods and food security.

International Union for Conservation of Nature

IUCN engage in advocating international agreements and influencing policy for a sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture worldwide.


Oceana works to reduce overfishing by advocating for science-based catch limits, reducing harmful fishing subsidies and stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The South Centre

The South Centre produces research and support developing countries to promote their interests in international negotiations, including those on fisheries subsidies at the WTO.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

UNCTAD supports developing countries and promotes sustainability, notably with regards to oceans economy. In collaboration with FAO and UNEP, UNCTAD developed a roadmap to end harmful fisheries subsidies.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

In order to support global efforts to tackle overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, UNECE promotes and facilitates the implementation of sustainable fisheries standards on a global scale.

UNEP Environment and Trade Hub

UNEP Environment and Trade Hub in Geneva engages in global policy reform surrounding harmful fisheries subsidies.

World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

As the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations, WTO is the stage of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies.

WWF International

As an independent conservation organization active in nearly 100 countries, WWF works to promote sustainable fishing practices for the benefit of nature and people.

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