What is IUU fishing?
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing refers to fishing activities carried out in violation of local or international laws and regulations, without proper reporting or oversight. These activities can include fishing in protected areas, using prohibited gear, or catching protected species. IUU fishing can negatively impact fish stocks and marine ecosystems, as well as the livelihoods of legal fishermen.
For shipping stakeholders and business owners, monitoring this growing trend is essential for ensuring their businesses are not at risk of being sanctioned, or involved with any IUU fishing or supporting fleets.
This goes beyond sanctions or other risks and is also an ethical issue. Firstly, IUU is one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems and fish-based economies. Also, IUU fishing vessels are often associated with forced labor and other illegal activities.
What defines IUU fishing?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines what constitutes illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the following way:
- Illegal fishing: any foreign vessel that enters an area to fish without the proper authorization, is engaged in illegal fishing . This includes fishing for protected species or stopping in protected areas.
- Unreported fishing: fisheries are responsible for reporting their activities to the local authorities. By failing to report or submitting a false report, the fishery is considered illegal. For example, if a ship surpasses its quota and only reports a partial accounting of its haul, or they only report catching one species of fish and not they complete inventory, they could face significant fines.
- Unregulated fishing: fishing in places with no rules to control how many fish are caught, such as the South Atlantic, is also a violation. Catching certain types of fish that lack protective regulations is also considered to be unregulated fishing. Additionally, it refers to fishing in international waters when the rules made by these regulatory agencies are not being followed. When too many fish are caught, it hurts the fish populations and damage the environment.
Some common examples of IUU fishing practices are:
- Fishing in protected areas, such as marine parks or areas where fishing is restricted or prohibited due to conservation, or management concerns.
- Using prohibited gear like drift nets, which can be harmful to marine life, or using other gear that is not allowed under local, or international regulations.
- Catching protected species that are protected by law, such as sharks, turtles, or certain types of whales.
- Under-reporting the catch, which includes not reporting the true weight of fish caught. This can make it difficult to track fish stocks and ensure sustainable fishing practices accurately.
- Fishing with illegal vessels or boats that are not registered or licensed to fish, or using vessels that have been flagged or banned from fishing by international organizations.
- Fishing without proper permits or quotas set by local or international authorities.
Avoid contributing to IUU fishing’s forced labor problem
“Victims of forced labor are often isolated in inhumane conditions on board fishing vessels and trapped at sea for extended periods of time. Crew members can be subjected to a range of injustices, including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; unsanitary and unsafe working conditions; 20-hour workdays; lack of pay; and even murder,” according to an illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing report by Oceana, a non-profit ocean conservation organization.
- “Going dark” and switching off AIS tracking devices to conceal illegal activities is common for IUU fishing vessels, especially in hot zones, or on the borders of exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
- Staying out at sea for an extended period of time with no port calls can also be an indicator of IUU fishing. Many avoid entering ports of countries known to inspect ships and enforce fishing laws.
- While out at sea for extended periods, IUU fishing vessels often use supporting fleets to bring supplies, or unload vessels via ship-to-ship (STS) meetings.
A thorough Maritime AI™ and due diligence process can help mitigate the risks of IUU fishing.
Using AI to detect IUU vessels
The problem with most systems is that they heavily rely on Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) messages to determine whether a ship is engaging in IUU fishing activities. Fishing vessels can often bypass these checks, especially smaller fishing boats that don’t have AIS or VMS.
An AI solution can be helpful in collecting significant amounts of data to provide a clearer understanding of their activities. Some of the activities that can raise a red flag are:
- Drifting: when a ship is moving at less than 3 knots, which is the average pace of two ships traveling side by side to transfer cargo, catch, or crew.
- High risk zones: an AI solution can define hot spots as areas where there is a high occurrence of suspicious activity, such as ship-to-ship transfers, IUU fishing, or sanctions violations.
- Flags of convenience (FOC): vessels engaging in illegal activity frequently use the FOC to hide their ownership and avoid legal action or scrutiny.
- Meetings: an AI solution uses machine learning to recognize unusual behavior, including extended meetings ship-to-ship (STS) meetings.. These meetings are usually due to refueling, and transferring catch, crew, and supplies, all of which can violate regulations.
By using an AI solution, shippers can mitigate their compliance risk management by detecting and avoiding vessels that are likely involved in, or in support of, illegal, unreported, and unregulated shipping practices.
IUU vessel list
As part of a shipper’s due diligence, checking if a vessel has engaged in IUU practices is important. The best option is using an artificial intelligence (AI) system with models created by maritime experts, because illicit actors frequently change the names and identifying details of vessels engaged in IUU. Static lists will struggle to keep up.
There are also multiple IUU vessel lists that include ships which have been flagged for engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities. These lists are compiled and maintained by regional and international organizations, such as regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) or the European Union (EU), as well as some countries.
Being on the IUU vessel list can have severe consequences for the ship and its owners. It may be denied access to ports, face fines and sanctions, and have its catch seized or destroyed. Additionally, ships on the IUU list may face difficulties in selling their catch to legitimate buyers and can be blacklisted by the industry.
IUU lists are intended to be a deterrent, but knowing which vessels are engaged in IUU fishing is often difficult due to evolving deceptive shipping practices, so AI software with predictive capabilities is necessary for full coverage.