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Causes of IUU Fishing

In order to develop effective global strategies to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, it is necessary to understand its underlying factors.

Flags of Convenience

A fishing vessel that is registered in a foreign country in order to take advantage of lower fees or so that it is not subject to fishing rules or regulations that it would face under its own flag is considered to be flying a “flag of convenience.” Often countries that are not members of regional fisheries management organizations or signatories to international fishing agreements are used as flags of convenience by fishing operations who are trying to deliberately circumvent fishing regulations.


Overcapacity is the presence of too much fishing activity/excessive fishing capacity. Reducing the number of vessels in a fishery—fleet reduction programs—has been one strategy to address overcapacity; however, the replacement of older, smaller vessels with larger, more efficient vessels has limited its effectiveness in many fisheries.

In 1999, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted an International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity.

Lack of Management

Efforts to enhance international fisheries and oceans governance have come a long way in the last decade, resulting in significant improvements in the management of high seas and highly migratory fish stocks. Unfortunately, not all regions on the high seas are overseen by a regional fishery management organization (RFMO), and not all RFMOs are as effective in monitoring, controlling and surveilling their regulatory area to prohibit IUU fishing.

Flag State Performance

The success of international fisheries governance depends on strong flag state control.

According international law, the flag state under which a vessel operates is responsible for the fishing activities of that vessel, regardless of where that vessel operates. With its FAO partners, Canada is working to improve the international understanding of flag state responsibilities.

In March 2007, country members, including Canada, agreed that the FAO should develop criteria to assess performance of flag states. Canada is working with its FAO partners to help determine what actions must be taken to improve flag state performance. Having international criteria to measure flag state performance will indicate how each country is doing to meet the responsibilities for vessels flying its flag. Determining which countries do not meet their responsibilities will help with efforts to discourage countries from registering fishing vessels that are know to engage in illegal, unreported and unrestricted fishing.

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