Shining a Light on Ocean Sustainability: The 6th Anniversary of the Fight Against IUU Fishing

The International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is observed annually to shed light on the grave threats posed by these activities to the sustainability of our oceans. This year, the 6th anniversary of the International Day for the Fight against IUU Fishing will be observed on Monday, June 5, 2023. The initiative to declare this day was proposed by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the FAO during its 39th session in 2015. The proposal received endorsement from the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) during its 32nd session. On December 5, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating June 5 of each year as the “International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.”

IUU fishing, a global problem, occurs when fishing vessels operate without a license, fail to report their catches or engage in fishing where prohibited. The adverse consequences of IUU fishing are widespread. Overfishing, a result of IUU practices, diminishes fish stocks beyond their ability to recover, thereby disturbing the fragile balance of marine ecosystems. Furthermore, IUU fishing contributes to poverty and food insecurity among fishers and their communities, as reduced fish stocks make it increasingly challenging for them to make a living. Additionally, the destructive fishing practices associated with IUU fishing, such as bottom trawling, cause irreparable damage to critical habitats like coral reefs.

The fight against IUU fishing is crucial to securing the future of our oceans and the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on fisheries. Nonetheless, several challenges hinder progress in this endeavor. Many countries lack the required resources to enforce fishing laws effectively, impeding their ability to combat IUU fishing. Moreover, cooperation among nations remains a significant obstacle, as some countries are unwilling to collaborate in the fight against IUU fishing. Additionally, the lack of traceability in the seafood supply chain makes it challenging to identify and enforce IUU fishing regulations.

Efforts against IUU fishing have been successful, thanks to strategies such as strengthening laws, increasing enforcement, promoting international cooperation, and improving traceability through electronic tagging systems. These measures make it harder for individuals and vessels to engage in illegal fishing, deter illegal activities, enhance effectiveness, and ensure transparency and accountability in the fishing industry.

In the context of Bangladesh, where fisheries are a vital source of food and income, IUU fishing poses a significant threat to local communities. To combat IUU fishing effectively, the government of Bangladesh must prioritize strengthening law enforcement capabilities. Furthermore, improving monitoring and surveillance through the use of satellite technology, establishing marine protected areas, and conducting regular inspections of fishing vessels can help deter and detect IUU fishing activities. Promoting responsible fishing practices among fishermen, including education on the dangers of IUU fishing and training on sustainable techniques, is essential for long-term sustainability.

Efforts to combat IUU fishing necessitate collaboration not only within nations but also among individuals. Citizens can contribute by reporting suspected cases of IUU fishing to the authorities, refusing to participate in illegal activities, and demanding that suppliers adhere to fishing laws. Increasing public awareness about the problem of IUU fishing through education campaigns, public events, and social media initiatives is also crucial to garnering support and driving change.

Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd., a consultancy company specializing in fisheries and aquaculture on a global scale, has recently developed a groundbreaking tool known as the IUU Fishing Index. This tool aims to evaluate countries’ exposure to and effectiveness in combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The index assigns an IUU fishing score ranging from 1 to 5 to all coastal states, with 1 representing optimal performance and 5 indicating suboptimal performance.

The global IUU score presently stands at 2.24, indicating the overall extent of IUU fishing activities. China currently holds the top position with a score of 3.86, while Finland boasts the lowest IUU score of 1.62, placing it last in the ranking. In 2021, Bangladesh was ranked 85th out of 152 countries, with an average IUU score of 2.20. Bangladesh’s ranking and score have improved between 2019 and 2021, with a positive change of 0.21, elevating its position from 47th to 85th in the global ranking. The government of Bangladesh has taken several initiatives in recent years to combat IUU fishing, making this improvement possible. Additionally, the ECOFISH II activity of World Fish, funded by USAID, carries out various activities to raise awareness among communities and help fishermen follow government rules and regulations for improved fisheries.

Scalability, ongoing funding, capacity building, and policy integration are key strategies for sustaining progress against IUU over time. To achieve scalability and replication, stakeholders in other regions facing similar IUU fishing challenges need to share lessons learned and best practices. Public-private partnerships and international donors can provide ongoing funding. It is important to implement capacity-building programs to strengthen skills and empower stakeholders. Focusing on these strategies can prevent IUU fishing, promote sustainable practices, conserve marine resources, and support livelihoods.

(Dr. Md. Hadayet Ullah, is a Scientist, WorldFish Bangladesh, USAID/ECOFISH-II Activity.)  

Tags: , , , ,