The official term for pirate fishing is Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (or IUU) fishing.

IUU fishing is a global phenomenon, occurring in coastal and deep-sea waters. It impoverishes fish stocks and weakens measures taken to protect and restore resources. IUU fishing is unfair competition for those who are operating legally and threatens the survival of coastal populations. 

Accurate data about the extent of the problem is hard to collect, given that it is by definition a clandestine activity. According to the FAO, total annual IUU fishing has increased in the last 20 years to 11-26 mega tons per year (FAO, 2014) and represents a significant proportion of the global catch.  

The primary objective of illegal fishing, as with all environmental crimes, is financial gain. In some cases, IUU fishing is coordinated on a huge scale through organized networks, involving laundering of money and fish products, corruption, intimidation, and aggression toward small-scale fishers. Practices that violate international law are found at all levels of the production chain and involve banned fishing methods, transshipment to hide the catch’s origins, the use of flags of convenience or no flag, bribing of officials, false labeling, substitution of species, and so on. 

In Italy, organized criminals are very active in the fishing sector throughout the south of the country, while fishing boats run by Indonesian criminal gangs are particularly numerous in Asia. 

IUU fishing deprives developing countries of precious food and economic resources. This massive business is also proving catastrophic for biodiversity. The waters of deep-sea fisheries, increasingly raided by pirate fishing boats, were until recently almost entirely unexplored. As scientists begin to study this vast area of the planet, they are discovering an environment that is much richer and more vulnerable than coastal zones. 

Find out more: 

Goodies and baddies: IUU fishing as state-corporate crime, not “organised crime” by Andre Standing 

SDG 14 target of ending IUU fishing by 2020  

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