Ending Illegal Fishing Project

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Working to ensure a sustainable future for our oceans by combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing around the world.

Illegal fishing is a major threat to the sustainability of the world’s fisheries. Some estimates are that illegal and unreported fishing accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of fish annually worldwide, and up to 20 percent of all of the wild marine fish caught globally. In some parts of the world, the situation is even more dire. For example, fisheries scientists estimate that illegal fishing accounts for up to 40 percent of fish caught in West Africa.

Pressure on the world’s fish stocks is at an all-time high. Fishing fleets utilize modern technology and massive vessels to fish in places that until recently were out of reach because they were too deep, remote, or dangerous to exploit.

How mandatory IMO numbers will help end illegal fishing.

Fleets now pursue and catch fish in virtually every part of the world’s ocean. Massive processing vessels—floating factories that process, freeze, and transport fish in huge quantities—allow fishing vessels to offload catch at sea and continue fishing with alarmingly little downtime. The result is what some call “the last buffalo hunt”—too many fishing vessels chasing a dwindling number of fish that have nowhere to hide.

Most industrial fishing operations act within the law, but some take to the seas fully intending to steal fish. They do this in various ways, including failing to report catch, using illegal fishing gear, fishing without licenses, and even painting new names on their vessels while at sea to avoid detection by authorities. And they do it wherever they think they can get away with it, both within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal states and on the high seas. In many cases, the theft is made easy by patchwork regulation of fishing areas and weak enforcement at sea and in ports.

The Port State Measures Agreement: A major weapon in the fight against illegal fishing.

Our Work

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  • How to End Illegal Fishing

    Every time wild-caught fish is bought at a restaurant, store, or waterfront dock, there is a 1 in 5 chance that it was caught outside of the law. Illegal and unreported fishing worldwide accounts for up to 26 million metric tons of fish annually, worth up to $23.5 billion. This equates to more than 1,800 pounds of wild-caught fish stolen from the seas every second. With nearly 90 percent of the... Read More

  • Fisheries Body Should Manage Key Pacific Species for Sustainability

    The Western and Central Pacific Ocean, which makes up a significant part of the largest ocean on Earth, supplies more than half of the world’s tuna catch. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is responsible for managing these valuable fisheries, which include a healthy population of skipjack tuna along with the severely overfished Pacific bluefin and several highly... Read More

How the Infamous Kunlun Fishing Ship Met Its Demise

Pew helped Interpol create a network for sharing information among nations fighting illegal fishing—and halted a ship’s infamous career. Read more in the most recent issue of Trust magazine.

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Meet the Team

Learn about Pew's staff working to combat illegal fishing.

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Media Contact

Kimberly Vosburgh



How Innovation Can Fight Environmental Crime 

What's the key to combating ivory trade, illegal fishing, and other environmental crimes? Interpol's David Higgins says global monitoring and high-tech tools can help, in Trend magazine. 

Read essay