Ilegal fishing | WWF

Ilegal fishing

The EU is the largest importer of seafood products in the world. It consumes a quarter of the world’s seafood, almost 70% of which is imported.
Thousands of kilos of fish enter the European market every day. But do we know where and how the fish on our plate was caught?

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has become a global problem that depletes fish stocks, damages marine ecosystems, puts legitimate fishers at risk and threatens the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. EU regulation to combat IUU fishing aims to combat it by mandatory use of catch certificates.

The latest official studies show that every year IUU fishing costs between €8 billion and €19 billion globally. 

What is WWF doing?

Together with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana and The Pew Charitable Trusts, WWF works to support effective and harmonised implementation of the EU IUU regulation. The main aim of this regulation is to make sure that products from IUU fishing activities don’t enter the EU.

There are still considerable gaps in implementation,  like the EU’s system of catch certificates, that need to be addressed. The current paper-based system for catch certificates doesn’t allow EU-level cross-checks of information and duplicates can be used to import fish. This is why WWF is asking for a harmonised electronic catch certificate system.

In many member states current practices and procedures for processing catch certificates don’t help detecting illegal fishing activities and block imports.This means the same fish could be imported more than once, using duplicate certificates. WWF calls for harmonised methods for assessing the legality of fisheries imports.

In the South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) region, WWF is working with government officials and other players to eliminate IUU fishing and ensure the SWIO countries’ ongoing access to EU seafood markets. The EU’s assessment of compliance with international measures, and the EU IUU Regulation, in the region has already resulted in a yellow card to Comoros.


Eszter Hidas
Senior Policy Officer, Illegal fishing
+32 2 761 04 25
	© WWF
Yellow Fin Tuna carried by a fisherman in the Philippines


  • Illegal fishing: conducted by vessels or countries that are part of a fisheries organisation but violate the rules, or operate in waters without permission
  • Unreported catches: caught by vessels without reporting to relevant authorities
  • Unregulated fishing: conducted by vessels under the flag of a country they are not part of, or not part of a fishery organisation
  • EU catch certificates prove that fish have been caught legally and contain information about when the fishing took place, where the fishing took place and how much fish was caught. Catch certificates are issued by the country where the fishing vessel is registered (the flag state)  and are required to import fish into the EU from non-EU countries. 


  • Every day, thousands of tons of fish are stolen from our oceans and brought to market disguised as legal catch. So, what can we do about it?

    WWF’s Transparent Seas Project is working globally to make fishing more transparent and to ensure that the seafood reaching markets is fully traceable to legal sources. 


  • Global Oceans Commission Report From Decline to Recovery - A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean

    "The Ocean is under threat, and humanity’s approach to it is uncontrolled. Benign neglect by the majority, and active abuse by the minority, have fuelled a cycle of decline.” (Global Oceans Commission report, June 2014)

    Download the report (June 2014)