Impacts of Environmental Crime: The Impacts of IUU Fishing

IUU fishing activities can have serious detrimental impacts on marine ecosystems, ecosystem services, and the societies that derive benefit from such services. IUU fishing exerts additional pressures on fish stocks, which may already be under pressure from unsustainable rates of legal fishing activities and can thereby contribute to the depletion of those stocks. In addition to these direct impacts on target fish species, fishing (including IUU fishing activities) can negatively affect non-target commercial species and nonmarketable fish, as well as protected and vulnerable species and habitats (Dayton et al. 1995; Gascoigne and Willstead 2009; Grieve et al. 2014; Pauly et al. 1998; Suuronen et al. 2013).

Fishing may also indirectly affect ecosystems via pollution from the discharge of organic waste while processing catches, non-biodegradable litter such as lost nets that can continue to ghost fish, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and the alteration of trophic structure and function through targeting low trophic level fish and discarding (Heath et al. 2014; Reeves and Furness 2002; Suuronen et al. 2013). Furthermore, IUU fishing obstructs fisheries managers from effectively regulating fish stocks in a sustainable manner because the uncertainty associated with estimates of IUU catches impede stock assessments (Watson and Pauly 2001).

In addition to its detrimental environmental impacts, IUU fishing has significant social and economic effects. By exploiting and depleting fish stocks, it reduces the resources available to legitimate fishing enterprises. This can lead to reduced profits and, potentially, unemployment. Often IUU fishing affects small-scale fishing communities in developing countries, with implications for development and food security (UNODC 2011). In economic terms, the value of fish lost to illegal and unreported fishing is estimated to be between USD 10-23.5 billion annually (roughly €8.9-20.9 billion) (Agnew et al. 2009a).

While this section has highlighted the importance of IUU fishing in its effects on the environment, it is important to stress that not all fisheries impacts are from IUU activities. Legal fisheries can have negative impacts. For example, Esteban and Carpenter (2015) have developed a database of the specific scientific advice provided to EU fisheries ministers for different stocks and the actual quotas or (total allowable catches (TACs)) and the actual numbers agreed by those ministers. From 2001 to 2015, the agreed TACs exceeded scientific advice by 20 per cent, although this dropped over time. However, 70 per cent of TACs continued to be set above the scientific advice. Member states with the largest gross tonnage above scientific advice were Denmark, the UK, and Spain. Da Rocha et al. (2012) analysed the recovery plans for southern hake and Atlantic cod as well as the enforcement of TACs. They concluded that drastic actions would be needed to ensure compliance and deliver stock recovery, with consequences for the incomes of fishers and social effects on coastal communities. Therefore, there is a major challenge to bring legal activities in line with sustainable stock management, let alone deal with IUU fishing.

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