Fishing is an activity that provides vital sources of food, employment and economic wellbeing. However, sustainable fisheries are threatened by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. 

IUU fishing includes all fishing that infringes fisheries laws and/or occurs outside the reach of fisheries laws and regulations. An important part of IUU fishing is illegal fishing, which usually refers to fishing without a license, fishing in a closed area, fishing with prohibited gear, fishing over a quota, or the fishing of prohibited species. A lot of these breach of fishing regulations happen in the high seas, international waters beyond the exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from the shoreline of a coastal state. 

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities are responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tonnes of fish each year. This is estimated to have an economic value of US$10–23 billion.

In addition, illegal fishing adversely impacts fish populations and undermines overhead costs, such as licenses. Therefore, Illegal fishers’ actions constitute a case of unfair competition since they operate without the costs of doing business legally or the strictures of following established policies and laws. 

Also, due to the failure to report catch, illegal fishing affects the accuracy of official fish catch and stock estimates. For this reason, due to the unknown real volume of fish that is caught, it is very difficult to effectively manage fisheries where illegal fishing is taking place. Finally, illegal fishing often causes grave environmental damage.

This is caused by the frequent use of prohibited gear, such as driftnets, that catches non-target species (like sharks, turtles or dolphins) or physically damages or destroys reefs, seamounts and other vulnerable marine ecosystems.

With the objective of solving this international problem, in 2015 the United Nations General Assembly urged with target 4 of Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Agenda to “effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices” by 2020. 

However, a WWF’s assessment shows that three of the four SDG14 targets due in 2020 have not been achieved, with the fourth target only partly achieved. Some of the reasons of this failure can be tracked down to the lack of standardised monitoring approach, the employment of ambiguous indicators and the missed prioritization of this goal due to the global overlook on issues concerning the wellbeing of oceans and marine life.

The possible solution to these obstacles can be found in the promotion of international awareness, stronger collaboration between countries and increased research. In doing so the objective should be that of challenging decision makers’ priority level regarding SDG 14, bringing life under water to the forefront of the global conversation

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