Stamping Out Illegal, Unreported & Unregulated Fishing in UK

1. Introduction

Illegal fishing: is the targeting, catching, retaining on board, landing, sale or possession of fish which contravenes international, EU, UK or local fisheries law.

Unreported fishing: includes all landings and sales that do not get reported as either catches, landings, sales, or purchases.

Unregulated fishing: includes activity which falls outside of any legislation yet remains legal, or semi-legal.

IUU contributes to the global problem of overfishing. It undermines scientists’, fishery managers’ and policy makers’ attempts to manage publicly-owned fish stocks sustainably. In addition to directly threatening fish stocks IUU fishing also threatens the wider marine environment as well as causing damage to livelihoods and society. One way or another, we are all victims of IUU fishing.

But IUU fishing isn’t just a problem on an international scale. IUU takes place much closer to home in the UK’s inshore waters where it contributes towards significantly impacting sustainable management of fish stocks, effective recording of landings, and the scientific data on which fishing opportunities are based.

To illustrate this, in 2014 the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) stated that the actual landings of sea bass from commercial vessels was likely to be on average around three times higher than the official statistics. There is no doubt that this failure to account for this level of IUU fishing is contributing to an inability to manage European sea bass, and other species, effectively.

The Angling Trust believes that truly effective fisheries management can only take place with the most accurate data possible on all sources of fishing mortality.  Without it attempts by scientists to provide advice, on which the sustainable management of fish stocks is based, will ultimately be compromised.

We believe the objective for the UK and the EU should be for excellence in world-leading management of our publicly-owned fish stocks and that achieving this includes a concerted effort to address IUU fishing at a global, EU and Member State level. The EU IUU regulation has made significant strides in addressing IUU as a global issue on the high seas. It’s now time to ensure that a rigorous approach to reviewing the extent, impact and solutions to IUU within UK waters is applied with support from anglers, fishermen, regulators and the public at large.

We are therefore very pleased that the Marine Management Organisation has embarked on a campaign to deal with illegal fishing after we raised this issue with them several months ago. We look forward to working with the MMO on this and on the issues around unreported and unregulated fishing. We are currently awaiting the results and recommendations of a sampling project which we hope will provide the evidence and impetus to move this area of work forward.

The project is being carried out by Cefas and is the result of a request by the EU Commission who, following question marks over the UK’s recording and reporting data from the under 10m fleet, conducted an audit of the UK’s process for recording and reporting this information to the Commission.

absolutely_free_photos_original_photos_fresh-fish-in-basket x500pxContributing to the objective of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)

The reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy in 2012 committed the UK and other Member States to fishing all stocks at maximum sustainable yield by 2020. In order to achieve this it is essential that better quality landings, sales and fishing mortality data is collected from all sources. Addressing IUU at Member State level can, and should, play an important role in improving landings/sales data on which scientific advice provided to reach, and fish at, MSY is based. In short, having a better idea of what is removed from the sea can only improve our understanding of whether this is a sustainable yield!



2. Recommendations

Illegal Fishing

Recreational fishers, commercial fishers, regulators and the general public should work together to raise the awareness of the impacts of illegal fishing and how it can be reduced through education, raising awareness of the impacts, reporting incidences, and introducing a culture of compliance with the law.

Development of a new centralised intelligence-led marine illegal fishing initiative which can log, investigate and share reports and intelligence of illegal fishing activity at sea.

Unreported fishing

All legal sales of fish should be recorded in order to improve fishing mortality data on which scientific advice and subsequent management measures are based upon. Exemptions and loopholes allowing legal sales of fish to go unrecorded should be removed as they compromise the quality of data on which scientific advice and management measures are based.

Unregulated Fishing

All fish sold should be from licensed, registered, sources and be recorded for management purposes. This involves providing new licensing opportunities for unpowered vessels and fish caught from the shore. This would:

a) Ensure that, in line with EU requirements, all sales of fish are from licensed sources.
b) Create a level playing field for those electing to fish commercially irrespective of method.
c) Facilitate better data collection for control and management purposes.
d) Remove the confusion that sometimes arises between recreational fishing and commercial fishing.

3. The Benefits of tackling UK-based IUU fishing

•  Management of fish stocks would be based on far more accurate data leading to clearer, evidence-based, policy decisions and more effective management.
•  Businesses reliant on fishing would benefit in the long term as more accurate data improves the accuracy of fishing opportunities.
•  Enforcement for regulators would be simplified. In addition, reporting of IUU fishing by the public would be easier.
•  Conflict between stakeholders would be reduced and a collective objective could be supported by the catching sector, environmental NGOs, regulators, scientists, consumers and business owners.
•  The relative impacts of different parts of the catching sector can be better understood which will improve evidence-based policy making when fishing opportunities are allocated.
•  The grey areas between commercial and recreational fishing would be removed and all those electing to sell their catches could be legitimised with licenses with the benefit of being able to sell their fish through official channels.

How The Recreational Angling Sector Can Help Address IUU Fishing

•  Raise awareness amongst anglers and the general public about the impact and consequences of illegal fishing.
•  Highlight the law around the sale of fish and promote compliance.
•  Report suspected illegal fishing to the MMO.
•  Support the Angling Trust in seeking the provision of licenses for those wishing to sell their fish caught from unpowered vessels or from the shore – or from any other currently unlicensed source – so that all sales of fish come from licensed sources.
•  Support the Angling Trust’s call for exemptions allowing unreported sales of fish to be closed in order that sales/landings data on which scientific advice and fishing opportunities is based can be improved.
•  Contribute to better data collection on all sources of landings and fishing mortality.

4.    Conclusion

Tackling the many sources of IUU fishing requires the co-operation of all those involved in fishing; from the catching sector to the restaurant diner.

A three-pronged approach to dealing with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing is needed. Different tools and mechanisms will need to be deployed to address the different issues but we are pleased that the MMO has begun the process by first seeking to address illegal fishing. We look forward to working with the MMO closely over the coming months and year to address unreported and unregulated fishing.

It is essential that dealing with IUU fishing is not hindered by government policy, such as the better regulation framework, which has already prevented licensing of unpowered vessels from being taken forward. The Angling Trust will continue to work with regulators, scientists, with the support of anglers and the general public, to make the case for legislative change to tackle IUU fishing, which we believe is essential to the sustainable management of our fisheries.

Data will never be perfect but settling for mediocrity in the data on which we manage our publicly-owned fish stocks is unacceptable. We must aspire to excellence, even in the face of financial and other constraints.

The recent measures to halt the decline of bass across the EU have highlighted the very significant problems IUU fishing might be playing in our ability to manage bass sustainably now and in the future. It is therefore time that all those involved in fishing take collective responsibility to address the problem.

The Angling Trust is committed to take an active and leading role in tackling IUU fishing at a UK level.



5.    Definitions

What is Illegal Fishing?

Illegal fishing is the targeting, catching, retaining on board, landing, sale or possession of fish which contravenes international, EU, UK or local fisheries law.

Why is it a problem?

Catching more fish than can sustainably be harvested is a long standing problem throughout the EU. The failures of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in this regard are well documented and have been comprehensively admitted and described at each review of the CFP. Nevertheless, most of the unsustainable exploitation has been entirely legal and is simply the result of insufficiently restrictive management. Illegal fishing compounds the problem. It can consist of enormous quantities of illegal fish landings such as the £62 million of illegal fish (170,000 tonnes of mackerel and herring) landed and sold from licensed Scottish fishing vessels between 2002 and 2005.

Or the millions of pounds worth of illegal fish landed into Newlyn over more than six years by a well-known fishing company in the South West before the owners and skippers of the licensed vessels involved were finally prosecuted, in the largest case of its kind to date, in 2009.

Alternatively illegal fishing can consist of half a dozen cod that have been captured from an unlicensed vessel being sold for cash at a local pub.

Illegal fishing:

Depletes publicly-owned fish stocks and contributes to overfishingUndermines effective fisheries management.
Undermines the businesses and reputations of law abiding individuals from the commercial catching sector.
Negatively impacts the legitimate enjoyment of recreational sea anglers for whom fish are scarcer and smaller.
Undermines the businesses supported by recreational sea angling such as tackle shops, bait suppliers and charter boat operators.

Law-abiding licensed commercial fishermen and recreational sea anglers should not expect to have their legitimate activities undermined by illegal fishing. Businesses supported by both commercial and recreational fishing should expect not to have access to publically-owned fish stocks compromised by those fishing illegally. It is important to note that any laws that are broken apply equally irrespective of the fishing method used. Therefore, those illegally selling fish or shellfish caught by rod & line, gill net, trawl, spear gun, pot, or any other method, may all be guilty of illegal fishing despite the different fishing methods.

By statutory definition, recreational anglers do not sell their catches. It is illegal under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), adopted into UK legislation, to sell fish caught from unlicensed, powered (motorised), vessels. Those caught doing so, irrespective of fishing method used, should expect to be prosecuted and fined for illegal fishing.

What is Unreported Fishing?

Unreported fishing includes all landings and sales that do not get reported as either catches, landings, sales, or purchases. This can be through active evasion of the law, through no mechanism being available to record the landings/sales or through inadequate enforcement of the existing regulations.

The legislation that has evolved at both EU and UK level to manage and record fishing has been piecemeal and opaque. As a result it has become increasingly difficult for even regulators to interpret and enforce.

For example, the EU Control Regulation (part of the common Fisheries Policy) currently allows up to 30kg of commercially caught fish, per transaction, to be sold to members of the public for personal consumption. There is no limit on the number of transactions. Through the current regulations no mechanism exists to record and hence establish the extent, or impact of, such transactions.

In short, licensed vessels under 10 metres can sell unlimited quantities of fish directly to end consumers (for personal consumption) without any requirement for recording those catches and furthermore, no mechanism exists for such sales/catches to be recorded.

Why is it a problem?

It is reasonable to assume that multiple sales of up to 30kg could constitute very significant amounts of fish going unreported and therefore being absent from landings and sales data on which scientists and fisheries managers provide advice on fishing opportunities. As mentioned above, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) stated that the actual landings of sea bass from commercial vessels was likely to be on average around three times higher than the official statistics. The potential extent of this underreporting could be severely compromising the EU’s objective to fish at Maximum Sustainable Yield levels.

At the same time recreational catches of some species are now being looked at in fine detail.

For example there have been claims that recreational catches of bass are as high as 30 per cent of all fishing mortality. However, we believe that this figure is wildly overestimated because official commercial landings data for bass in the UK may reflect as little as a third of actual landings. Patently, if true commercial landings are three times the official data, the proportion of the total, attributable to recreational fishing, will be far lower than 30 per cent.

What is Unregulated Fishing?

Unregulated fishing includes activity which falls outside of any legislation yet remains legal, or semi-legal, making it extremely difficult for regulators to capture data from these sources and assess their extent and impact on fish stocks.

For instance, under UK law it is legal to sell fish caught from the shore or from unpowered vessels and yet no licenses are required (nor are licences available) for these activities. The sale of fish from these sources is therefore legal but not technically from a licensed registered source – nor is it recreational. This creates a grey area in legislation.

Buyers who are registered under the Registered Buyers and Sellers scheme (RBS) can only purchase first sale fish from vessels that are licensed. So a Registered Buyer can buy fish caught from the shore but not from an unpowered vessel. Fish from an unpowered vessel can only be sold directly to the public or to a caterer who is not registered. This confusing and incoherent situation is as a result of piecemeal legislation that was insufficiently considered when drafted.

The Angling Trust will be pressing for a change in legislation to ensure all fishing activities carried out where fish are being sold are licensed/permitted with effective mechanisms in place to ensure all catches are recorded.

Why is it a problem?

Unregulated fishing has the potential to seriously undermine landings/sales data on which management measures (such as stock assessments and TACs) are based.

Unregulated fishing and the sale of fish from unregulated sources contributes to overfishing which negatively impacts the legitimate activities of licensed commercial fishing and recreational angling and associated businesses.

Whilst the unlicensed sale of fish from unpowered vessels, and from the shore, is currently legal it threatens to bring the reputation of genuine recreational angling into disrepute as a result of those fishing from unpowered (and hence unlicensed) vessels, or from the shore and selling their fish legally are inaccurately labelled as ‘recreational anglers illegally selling their fish’.

Where fish are captured and sold from an unlicensed, powered, vessel the activity is illegal commercial fishing regardless of the method used. If an unlicensed powered vessel deploys gill nets to catch fish that are sold, it is illegal fishing. Likewise, if an unlicensed powered vessel uses rod and line to catch fish that are sold, it is illegal fishing.


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