The state of world fisheries

Illegal fishing is an issue of international concern that dates back into the 1950s, when decreasing fish stocks trends were first reported. Globally, fisheries support the livelihoods of eight per cent of the world’s population1. Valued at $102.1 billion, exports of fish account for one per cent of global merchandise trade1. However, there are serious concerns for the state of world fisheries, with more than 80 per cent of global fisheries either at full capacity or overexploited1. Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing has been cited as one of the three main causes for poor performance of fisheries management1. Illegal fishing is a major issue. In the only global estimate made to date IUU fishing was estimated to account for 11 – 19 per cent of catches globally, and costs legal fisheries up to $23 billion annually2.

The main motivations and drivers IUU fishing are economic, and this type of fishing is likely to continue given the ongoing strong demand in both local and global markets for seafood. Recently, FAO (2016) estimated global annual fisheries catch at 90 million tonnes of fish3. Economic drivers apply to individual fishers as well as to large-scale operators. Other motivators and drivers include poverty and fishing overcapacity.

IUU catches have higher impacts on the environments and economies of developing nations, which are typically the same states with the least resources available to devote to monitoring and enforcement45. Strong fisheries management and governance assist in detection of IUU related issues such as corruption, ineffective vessel related controls (e.g. registration, lack of VMS).

There is international agreement of the need to end IUU fishing as the Sustainable Development Goal 14.4 states that “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”. The other positive pressure to limit the effect of IUU fishing drivers is the growing market demand for seafood with either full traceability from catch to plate5 and/or local provenance, both of which are achieved with Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC).



  1. Anonymous. 2010. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2010.  Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations, Geneva.
  2. Agnew, D. J., J. Pearce, G. Pramod, T. Peatman, R. Watson, J. R. Beddington, and T. J. Pitcher. 2009. Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PloS One 4.
  3. FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016 – Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. 200 pp.

  4. Riskas, K. A., Tobin, R. C., Fuentes, M. M. P. B., and Hamann, M. 2018. Evaluating the threat of IUU fishing to sea turtles in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia using expert elicitation. Biological Conservation, 217: 232-239.
  5. Sumaila, U. R., Alder, J., and Keith, H. 2006. Global scope and economics of illegal fishing. Marine Policy, 30: 696-703.