Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) describes fishing that breaks fisheries laws, is improperly documented, or occurs outside the reach of fisheries laws and regulations. The scale of IUU fishing globally is staggering. Some estimates suggest that 11 – 26 million tonnes of fish are poached annually, amounting to $10-30 billion USD. IUU fishing accounts for an estimated 10% to 22% of global fisheries production.

IUU fishing is a serious global problem which threatens and destroys marine ecosystems. By its very nature as an illicit practice, IUU fishing seeks to avoid or violate regulations put in place to protect marine species, thereby frustrating conservation efforts. In so doing, it threatens food security, disadvantages and harms sustainable legal fisheries, and robs revenues from legal fishers and states. Bribery, corruption, and fraud pervasive in fish crime undermine governance, and lax and predatory labour practices threaten the well-being of crews.

With IUU fishing now on the radar of most governments, monitoring and enforcement actions are increasing. However this term only describes the act of fishing. Criminality does not stop with the illegal removal of fish from the sea, and instead can be found at every stage of the fisheries supply chain: IUU fishing ventures will forge licenses and other documents, use ports of convenience and transshipment avoid inspections, employ fraud and deception to launder illegally caught fish into markets and avoid taxes. The term ‘fish crime’ is often used to describe this kind of criminality throughout the fisheries supply chain.

Operation Reecon Wolf

Operation Reecon Wolf examines the entire fisheries supply chain, analyzing it for weak points. Many countries have deep water fishing fleets that operate in international waters on the high seas. In order to maximize fishing time, companies utilize refrigerated cargo ships, “reefers,” that rendezvous at preset coordinates to transfer the catch and at the same time replenish the ships with crew and provisions. The reefers bring the fish to shore for processing and then on to market. This allows fishing vessels to remain at sea for protracted periods, maximizing the time they spend fishing. This process can also be used to conceal IUU operations.

Through reefers, illegal catches can be spirited away to ports of convenience, facilitating their being laundered into licit markets. IUU fishing fleets can remain at sea for longer, and circumvent numerous laws and regulations. We use a range of techniques to track known reefers, scrutinizing their operations for potential criminal activity.

Monitoring Tankers Conducting At Sea Bunkering Of Fishing Fleets
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However fishing fleets are often found entering a countries EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and poaching fish from nations that may not have adequate marine assets to police their waters. Fishing fleets from China, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, Spain and other wealthy nations have vessels flagged under their country conducting illegal fishing operations. In most cases these are privately owned fishing companies acting independently for the profit of their shareholders. These vessels operate around the globe, and thanks to the use of reefers, they can remain at sea almost indefinitely.

By tracking the movements of reefers, we can gain a better understanding of the modus operandi of illegal fishers. In understanding their operations, we can identify weaknesses, and use these to bring down their criminal enterprises.