Illegal Fishing
Crimes on the High Seas
Swordfish caught in illegal drift net (Photo © Gavin Parsons/Greenpeace/Marine Photobank)

The fewer fish there are, the more desperate we become to catch them. Inevitably, this leads to illegal fishing. International fisheries management agencies report that at least a quarter of the world's catch is illegal, unreported or unregulated.

Management Plans Often Ignored

The biggest issue is pirate fishermen taking fish outside the scope of an existing management plan. These violations include taking undersize fish, fishing in closed areas, during seasonal closures, using illegal gear or taking more fish than is allocated.

Chilean seabass have been particularly affected by pirate fishing. Slow-growing fish that breed late in life, they are naturally vulnerable to overfishing. Unfortunately, poaching is rampant, especially in remote Antarctic waters where law enforcement is difficult.

A Crime Against the Environment and Economies

Illegal fishing hurts our oceans, and our economy. While statistics are scarce, one analysis estimates that worldwide illegal and unreported fishing losses are between 11 and 26 million tons, or around one-fifth of total global fisheries production.

People Suffer, Too

While poor nations are implicated in illegal fishing, developed nations are most to blame. Significant unlawful fishing happens inside the "exclusive economic zones" of many countries (within 200 miles of shore). This is mostly due to a lack of enforcement and penalties when management efforts are ignored.

Hope for the Future

Fortunately, over the last decade, illegal fishing has declined or leveled off in many areas of the world. But there's still much to be done.
What You Can Do

Support Ocean Policy
Push for better management and oversight
By choosing items from our green "Best Choices" list you are supporting well-managed fisheries and creating a market for product that is caught in legal and regulated ways.
Download or print a pocket guide

Seafood Choices
Buy MSC-certified sustainable products
Look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue ecolabel in stores and restaurants. These products are from sustainable sources, and can be traced back to the certified fishery.
Learn more about the MSC

Learn more about Wild Seafood Issues: