Original publication: July 2014
Authors: Blomeyer & Sanz – Mike Beke, Roland Blomeyer
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Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing: Sanctions in the EU

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This briefing note presents an overview of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) and sanctions in the European Union (EU). The note provides the reader with information on the different approaches for addressing serious infringements in different Member States (MS), as well as an analysis of existing EU and international measures.

Objectives and methodology

The briefing note aims to:

  • Describe the problem of IUU activities and identify key vulnerabilities in order to understand the impact of IUU fishing and the ways in which sanctioning measures can be developed.
  • Provide an overview of policy measures against IUU fishing in order to identify challenges in the implementation of EU rules.
  • Provide an overview of practices on the sanctioning of IUU infringements in the EU MS.

The timeframe for this briefing note was from the beginning of January 2014 to the end of March 2014. The methodology employed to deliver the note combines desk research, stakeholder interviews and data requests.


In January 2010 the IUU regulation entered into force based on Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Regulation). The regulation includes various important tools to control fishing activities and MS are to adopt appropriate measures, allocate adequate financial, human and technical resources and set up all administrative and technical structures necessary for ensuring control, inspection and enforcement.

The EU fisheries control system aims to promote transparency and ensure non- discrimination between EU and third country fisheries. For enforcement, the IUU Regulation includes a harmonised system of proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for serious infringements. This places responsibility with the MS to determine and implement sanctions.

With this briefing note an effort has been made to provide an overview of the sanctioning of serious infringements in EU MS. It has placed particular emphasis on the implementation of measures against IUU fishing, the detection of infringements, imposed sanctions and the degree of repeat offences.

Key findings

This study has found that weak governance arrangements in the fisheries sector are considered the main vulnerability for IUU activities. Addressing challenges requires good governance, stronger policy frameworks and better implementation of existing policies. A key area for improvement is the tracking of ownership of fishing vessels. Various attempts to establish an international register of fishing vessels have failed. Consequently there is no accurate and complete information on vessel activity in the high seas. In addition, this study has found that there is a lack of transparency on foreign fishing activity in countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). While the EU provides public information about EU vessel activity in third countries’ EEZs, other large fish producers fail to do so.

Further, this study argues that differences in monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) activities among EU MS risk that IUU offenders direct their activities to areas with weaker control. Low level of MCS could lead to low probability of detection, increasing revenue from IUU activities and lower transaction costs of doing business. Port and flag states need to be engaged in MCS activities, in which especially port inspections are an important moment to allow for detection and prevention of IUU infringements.

Not only EU MS are responsible for MCS activities but also third countries have to be committed to fighting IUU infringements. Especially developing states experience significant difficulties in governing MCS systems. This study therefore argues that special focus should be placed on supporting third countries through regional cooperation frameworks. Adherence to international agreements and regional fisheries management organisations could greatly reduce the effectiveness of flag states that either cannot enforce their laws or are unwilling to enforce them.

The IUU regulation is equipped with important tools to address challenges the EU is facing with IUU fishing. The rules can be considered innovative and could have major global impact given the important role of the EU as producer and exporter of fishery products, as well as importer of fishery products. This study identified various challenges in the implementation of the IUU Regulation. First of all, the detection of EU financial interests behind IUU fishing is difficult due to lack of transparency. The secretive nature of IUU activities complicates detection and impedes objective estimates of the degree of involvement of EU vessels in IUU fishing inside EU waters, on high seas or in third country EEZs.

Concerning following-up and sanctioning of IUU infringements by EU MS, this study finds that overall there is a lack of publically available data. Through national data requests, information is made available but data repositories do not always make a clear distinction between types of infringements. This should improve in time as the IUU Regulation recently entered into force. An additional complication is the division of competencies for inspecting and sanctioning of infringements. This generates diversity among MS and their approaches to dealing with fisheries. MS have divided competencies for fisheries control across various authorities, at various governmental levels. Sanctioning systems are either administrative or criminal and sanctioning competencies could differ depending on the gravity or type of infringement. Overall, it is difficult to establish the degree of recidivism. More transparency in the use of the point system should improve this and for now some insight is provided on recidivism when taking a closer look at the use of out-of-court settlements.


Based on the findings of this briefing note, the following recommendations should be prioritised:

1. Strengthen international policy frameworks. Due to the nature of IUU fishing, policy frameworks require global strengthening and cannot exclusively focus on regions.
2. Prioritise enforcement of IUU rules. Enforcement of IUU rules primarily relies on the responsibility and commitment of EU Member States themselves. Therefore authorities need to prioritise effective enforcement.
3. Enhance MCS and enforcement. Monitoring, control and surveillance activities cannot be decoupled from enforcement activities. Authorities need to enhance cooperation between inspection and sanctioning authorities.

Based on the more general recommendations above, the following recommendations specifically focus on licencing and administration, MCS and following-up and sanctioning of IUU infringements:

4. Strengthen national registries of fishing vessels. This will allow better tracking of vessels and maintaining a reliable record of fishing vessels.
5. Promote more transparency on fishing ownership structures. Promote adherence of flag states to regional management organisations and the relevant Conservation and Management Measures (CMM). Special focus should be placed on tax havens.
6. Enhance levels of MCS in EU MS. Both flag and port states need to be engaged in MCS activities and especially port authorities are required to forward information to administering and licencing authorities.
7. Promote the exchange of information on MCS activities. MS should exchange information on suspected and detected IUU infringements. The EU Alert system could be an important tool for this.
8. Prioritise detection of IUU infringements. Develop expertise on detecting IUU infringements, especially for customs authorities.
9. Exchange information on rules of procedure. MS should exchange information on the applied rules of procedure in case of detected IUU infringements.
10. Establish clear guidelines on evidence requirements. MS should exchange requirements for evidence collection in order to ensure successful prosecution.
11. Impose adequate sanctions. When establishing penalties, MS should take into account the severity of penalties and the potential deterrent effect.
12. Publish information on sanctions imposed. Data repositories in EU MS should include information on the sanctions imposed and clearly distinguish between types on infringements sanctioned.
13. Enhance transparency in out-of-court settlements. Out-of-court settlement of infringements can be a useful tool to deal with offenders. However, such procedures should be transparent and documented.
14. Consider criminal procedures in case of repeat offenders. Criminal proceedings could have a more deterrent effect on repeat offenders. Its consequences can be more severe (e.g. higher penalties and a criminal record).
15. Promote the use of the point system. The point system is a useful tool to harmonise sanctioning in the EU and address the problem of recidivism.

Link to the full publication: http://bit.ly/529-069

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EU catches by region in 2012


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