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Origins of the Term IUU

May 24, 2011 I recently discussed how we define “IUU fishing” and explored the scale of the problem.  In writing those posts, I thought it was interesting that the term “IUU fishing” did not exist until the late-1990s.

So why now do we have a term encompassing this variety of harmful fishing activities?

The short answer is that the international community was increasingly challenged by a lawlessness in marine fisheries, both international and with EEZs.  And because there is no global government and international law if often fuzzy, they had to call one thing (“bad” fishing) by many terms.   The solution was a composite term that covered it all, that being “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing”.

As Agnew et al point out, the 1980s and 1990s brought a wave of illegal and unreported fishing that the world had never before seen:

The worst period for illegal and unreported fishing world-wide appears to have been the mid-1990s, driven by a combination of factors: a growing world demand for fish and significant overcapacity of the world’s fishing fleet set against increasing limitation of access to distant water fishing nations and a lack of new or alternative fishing opportunities.

It seems that the international community at first did not quite know how to best conceptualize the problem.  A host of terms were used to get a handle on the problem.  Flags of convenience.  Unethical fishing. Flags of non-compliance.  Un-authorized fishing in areas of national jurisdiction and on the high seas.  And so on.

And then IUU came along and stuck.

According to the FAO,  the term “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing” was created by the treaty group that manages the Antarctic’s living marine resources known as CCAMLR.  It was first used in 1997 in the agenda for the Seventh Session of the Standing Committee on Observation and Inspection.  CCAMLR then continued to use the term and it caught on elsewhere.  In 1999, the term could be found in the meeting reports of the FAO, IMO, CSD, and various regional fishery bodies.

The term was then given an official blessing and definition with the 2001 passage of the FAO’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU).



Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, Watson R, Beddington JR, & Pitcher TJ (2009). Estimating the worldwide extent of illegal fishing. PloS one, 4 (2) PMID: 19240812

Doulman, DJ.  (2000) Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing: Mandate for an International Plan of Action.  Document AUS:IUU/2000/4.  FAO. Rome, Italy. 16p.  ISBN: 92-5-104732-4

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