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Illegal Fishing


Habitat Damage


Crimes on the High Seas

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 one-fifth of the world's catch is illegal, unreported or unregulated.

Management Plans Often Ignored

Fishermen violating domestic or international fishing laws, by taking fish outside the scope of an existing management plan, not only deplete fish stocks but also cost honest fishermen and governments millions of dollars by flooding the market with cheap product. Violations include taking undersize fish, fishing in another country’s jurisdictional waters without permission, fishing in closed areas during seasonal closures, using illegal gear, taking more fish than is allocated or illegally transshipping seafood (transferring cargo from one carrier to another).

A Crime Against the Environment and Economies

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

While poor nations are implicated in illegal fishing, developed nations carry some of the blame because of high demand for these products. For example, a recent study reports that 20 to 32 percent of the seafood imported into the U.S. were from illegal and unreported catches. Significant unlawful fishing happens both inside and outside the "exclusive economic zones" of many countries (within 200 miles off shore). One reason is a lack of enforcement and few, if any, penalties when management efforts are ignored.

Hope for the Future

Fortunately, over the last decade, illegal fishing has declined or leveled off in some areas of the world–but there's still much to be done.

What You Can Do

Buy MSC-Certified Sustainable Products

Look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue ecolabel in stores and restaurants. These products are certified sustainable to the standards of the MSC and can be traced back to the certified fishery.

Use Our Consumer Guides

Our printable guides are broken down by region so you can find ocean-friendly seafood wherever you live or travel. Choose from the green "Best Choice" column. Otherwise, try a yellow "Good Alternative."

Atlantic cod, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

Story of Hope

Fishery Eco-Certification is on the Rise

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has developed standards for sustainably managed and traceable wild-caught seafood. The number of fisheries that meet MSC ecolabel standards has steadily increased.

Today, 231 fisheries are MSC-certified, representing more than 8.8 million tons of seafood, and more than 26,000 seafood products bear the blue MSC ecolabel. Additionally, over 88 fisheries are engaged in the assessment process to become MSC-certified.

Learn about aquaculture Related ocean issue resources