Fisheries | Home

The purpose of this review is to provide examples and experience of how others in this sector have reduced the damaging impact of corruption. The sector-specific information is relevant for politicians, leaders, managers, civic groups, company executives and others. We hope it will bring both knowledge and inspiration.



Read the whole review or jump to any section using the main headings below and the sidebar on the left. Or you can download a complete copy of this sector review as a pdf document to read separately.

  1. Corruption types in fisheries
  2. Reforms in fisheries
  3. Developing an overall strategy
  4. Transnational fisheries initiatives
  5. Ask & Connect
  6. Reading and Bibliography


Corruption affects the fisheries sector in various ways and takes place against a backdrop of decreasing fish stocks worldwide and high demand for seafood products.  World Wildlife Fund reports that two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are either fished at their limits, or over fished, and cites statistics from the World Food Organisation (FAO) according to which 70 percent of the fish population is fully used, overused, or in crisis. Some would go as far as to suggest that corruption risks and challenges are far greater in the fisheries than in other extractive/natural resource sector (Dengate 2016 No Bigger Fish to Fry: Going after Corruption in Global Fisheries).

Seafood is an extremely valuable commodity, and income derived from fisheries are a highly significant source of income for many states, such as through access fees to territorial waters (e.g. in the Pacific Islands; Tsamenyi and Hanich 2008). The Food and Agriculture Organisation values the industry at 132 US$ billion, with a yearly volume of more than 160 million tons. Of this, around 10-23 US$ billion a year is caught through illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) practices and fraud, according to some estimates, for export to large markets, such as Europe, the USA and Asia (Agnew et al 2009).

More on illegal fishing


The originating author of this review is Mat Tromme. Additional contributions have been made by Mark Pyman.

1. Corruption types in fisheries

FOCUS on the specific corruption issues - Guidance summary

Vulnerabilities to corruption occur throughout the whole value chain, from negotiations of access agreements by rich countries with countries that negotiate access to territorial waters, through to malpractices in fisheries management at the local level. Processors and distributors, and of course fishers themselves, can engage in corrupt practices. (Sumaila and Jacquet 2017 When bad gets worse – corruption in fisheries).

Most of these vulnerabilities are inter-dependent as well. Fisheries corruption occur in various ways and can involve instances of ‘petty’ and ‘grand’ corruption – e.g. from nepotism to small gifts/bribes, to large-scale and regular transactions, organized criminal behaviour, active political interference in the process of a country, etc. (Tsamenyi and Hanich 2008, Note 3: page 9).

Corruption patterns vary according to where fish is caught (for example whether seafood is caught/produced offshore or inland). Likewise, risks and patterns vary depending on who is involved – either small-scale (subsistence) fishermen, or ‘industrial’ fishermen.

Our typology of corruption in fisheries covers the following ten corruption types:

1.2.1 Seafood fraud

1.2.2 Licensing of fishing vessels

1.2.3 Setting of catch limits and negotiation of access agreements

1.2.4 Non-Observance of standards (‘technical conservation’)

1.2.5 Fluid and porous supply chains

1.2.6 Informality

1.2.7 Forced labour

1.2.8 Organised Crime, money laundering and illicit financial flows

1.2.9 International corruption

1.2.10 Petty corruption


2. Reforms in fisheries

Specific Reform Measures - guidance summary

Although there is no consensus on what the best approach to tackle corruption in fisheries is, there does appear to be an understanding that policing and enforcement is extremely challenging and is not enough to deal with the problem.

Fraud and corruption in the fishery sector are hard to police, in part because much of it happens illicitly, is unreported, and/or is unregulated. The chances of getting caught are low, especially where fishing occurs in territorial waters of jurisdictions where enforcement is weak, or because these do not have the resources to police the seas and combat seafood fraud/IUU. Officials who may be tasked with enforcing fishing quotas may also be bribed, as can port authorities, navy patrols, etc. There are also concerns that prosecution for wrongdoing may be stalled by political influence. In addition, a lack of institutional collaboration can also hamper progress in combatting fraud and corruption throughout the value chain (from catch to plate).

In addition, how the corruption risks in fisheries are addressed varies based on the regulatory structure and implementation of each State (licensing methods and criteria, degree of regulatory discretion in decision making etc.) and also varies within States.  In the US, for example, three government agencies are responsible for regulating and policing the sector, and it is acknowledged that NGOs and the private sector also have an important role to play (Lampert 2017, Note 4, at 1638).

Moreover, as various experts have noted, some standard approaches to tackling IUU fishing focus on the criminal implications (i.e. it is assumed that vessels often make a rational choice by breaking the rules because state regulations are weak and/or are weakly enforced), but a more comprehensive approach should also be adopted, whereby the behaviour of various stakeholders is taken into consideration, together with contextual, structural and political factors. See, for example, Standing 2015, Note 6, page 16. The author describes the importance of human-rights based approaches, as well as the importance of advocacy campaigns aimed at consumers and investors.

Ideally, addressing corruption in fisheries would also be a multi-stakeholder initiative, involving fishers themselves. Others have argued that due to the migratory nature of fish stocks, regional solutions and institutions are required, but have also remarked that implementation of conservation and management decisions ultimately falls to national governments (Tsamenyi and Hanich 2008, Note 3, at 5).Thus, fighting against corruption in fisheries likely requires tangential approaches that cut across most of the below.

2.1 Rule of Law measures

Some constituencies such as the EU, US, the UN etc combat IUU and seafood fraud through a variety of treaties and legislation. These instruments vary, but call for various measures to tackle the problems, such as through better collection of data, enforcement mechanisms (and capacity-building/technical assistance) to coastal nations, as well as better coordination among domestic and international entities. (Beyond the strict legal realm, these measures are often re-asserted in the wider literature as important mechanisms to tackle corruption) (Lampert 2017, Note 4, at 1640). For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, and also defines the rights and responsibilities of states and their activities at sea, including through the collection of statistics on fishing yields and conservation measures.

Other legal instruments include: the 1993 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels Fishing on the High Seas (which, among others, calls for tracking and punishing fishing vessels that flout measures to protect marine wildlife by ensuring member states collect and share data on vessels flying their flag); the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks; and the 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing (PSMA). The latter, which is legally binding, builds on previous agreements and is the first to create mandatory criteria targeting IUU fishing.

In addition to international frameworks, regional efforts are also in place to combat overfishing and IUU. To mention the more relevant ones, the EU has put various measures in place through various Regulations, which aim, among others, at collecting information and tracking seafood through the supply chain, as well as through inspection and enforcement mechanisms (EU legislation requires at least five percent of landing and trans-shipment operations by non-EU vessels, and of all vessels found committing IUU fishing to be inspected). Some EU Regulations also envisage a catch certification mechanism, which provides basic information on the vessel, type of fish, location it was caught, etc. Finally, in the US, key legislation includes: the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and the Presidential Task Force’s Action Plan, which aims to tackle IUU through: international efforts; improved enforcement mechanisms; coordination with non-governmental actors, and better traceability (Lampert 2017, Note 4, at 1640-49).

Here are three examples taken from  OECD 2016:

Example – Korea. In order to curb IUU fishing, Korea reports it has taken legal measures seeking to: increase port control and changing the distribution structure; ban entry of alleged IUU vessels; improve the vessel management system through a vessel decommissioning plan and national plan of inspection, as well as by improving monitoring tools and catch monitoring. Korea has also taken an active stance in improving information-sharing with other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO). Finally, it conducted awareness-raising activities on IUU with various stakeholders in the value chain.

Example – Spain. Spain also strengthened its legal framework with a view to strengthen oversight of the market and inspection activities; increase sanctions, such as the introduction of a ‘very serious infringement’ offence for IUU fishing, for which the penalties are fines, disqualifications, and removal of subsidies from vessels involved in these activities. However, progress is undermined by the need to prove criminal fault (improving international collaboration, such as sharing of information on those involved in IUU fishing, is therefore hailed as an important step to try remedying this problem).

Example – Indonesia. Strengthening law enforcement measures is also an approach taken by Indonesia, which imposed administrative sanctions to curb IUU fishing. It is reported that authorities revoked or suspended licenses and sent warning letters to fisheries companies. The country is also reviewing the process of licensing for foreign vessels and imposing limitations on activities, such as preventing trans-shipment. It is also working on improving governance in the fishing business. Finally, it has set up a Presidential Taskforce to combat fisheries crime.

2.2 Policing/law enforcement

Many nations have outlawed illegal fishing in order to more effectively prosecute it. However, penalties, let alone actual enforcement, vary. Some other issues with policing can involve observers auditing freshly caught catch on a vessel but coming under pressure or being threatened by the vessel crew. There is discussion on whether increasing the salary and working conditions of officers operating on land (e.g. port authorities) might provide incentives to refrain from engaging in corrupt practices.

2.3 Transparency, accountability and traceability

Secrecy and limited access to information is a feature of the fisheries sector. One way to counter corruption is therefore to ensure that key information, such as agreements and licensing, is made publicly available in a timely fashion. Large sums of development money are poured into the fisheries sector, but more could be done to improve access to information and accountability (e.g. updated and public websites with accurate information).

In terms of traceability, various initiatives are in place or have been tried. For example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) implemented a Chain of Custody certification mechanism that allows fish buyers to trace the point of origin of the fish (Sumaila and Jacquet 2017, Note 7, page 10). The European Fish Processors Association (AIPCE) has also created a similar traceability protocol for IUU cod from the Barents Sea. (Roheim 2008).

Along similar lines, various nations recently came together to create the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), which has been developed as a unique effort that complements and supports other national, regional and global efforts for achieving responsible fisheries governance. The purpose of the FiTI is to increase transparency and participation in fisheries governance for the benefit of a more sustainable management of marine fisheries. FiTI is a voluntary initiative with mandatory requirements.  The Initiative produces Country Reports to provide clear procedural guidelines for gathering, verifying and disclosing relevant information on fisheries. Lastly, it has also been suggested that a global database on corruption in fisheries be created as a starting point that would be a useful tool for investigating the problem (Sumaila and Jacquet 2017, Note 7).

As Lampert has noted, however, some shortcomings that undermine these efforts include different approaches to traceability and in port state measures, for example by the US and the EU. For example, the US traceability regulation only tracks the point of import, whereas EU regulation includes more specific information. Tackling IUU and seafood crime would also be more efficient if big import markets such as the EU and the US would agree to imposing similar penalties, and share information on perpetrators, seizures, etc. It has also been recommended that commissions should be established to make licensing decisions; and that licensing details and access agreements be publicly disclosed (Tsamenyi and Hanich 2008, Note 2).

2.4 Fully Documented Fisheries (FDF)

FDF is a valuable tool to address discards and improve stock recovery. One project, for example, rewarded Scottish fishing vessels with larger fishing quotas, more days at sea, or access to restricted areas if they agreed to install cameras on the boat to monitor the species caught and returned to sea. However, that incentive has now reportedly stopped.(Lampert, Note 4:  1649 -1651). Although there is currently no requirement in the EU for fishing vessels to carry video monitoring equipment, the use of electronic or video monitoring technologies has been in use for some time. It can provide a cost-effective means of monitoring fishing activity, thus combating some of the above-mentioned issues associated with seafood fraud and IUU.

3. Developing an overall strategy

Political & Tactical Approaches - Guidance summary

However, in the fisheries sector we are aware of little coordinated effort against corruption. Current efforts seem to be from UNODC and the Fishing Transparency Initiative (FiTI).

4. Transnational fisheries initiatives

Transnational initiatives - Guidance summary

As discussed above, the two organisations are UNODC and the Fisheries Industries Transparency Initiative (FiTI). We suggest you talk with them.

Fisheries industries Transparency Initiative (FiTI)

FITI was established in 2015, with the purpose to increase transparency and participation in fisheries governance for the benefit of a more sustainable management of marine fisheries. It describes itself as follows:

‘The FiTI is a global initiative. The initiative does not focus on a single country or a region. It seeks to establish a global level playing field among fisheries countries. The more participating countries, the more power this initiative will get! The implementation of the FiTI is country-centred. The intention to join the FiTI and the initiation of the official process must come from a country’s government. For this, a country’s government must demonstrate active support for the implementation of the FiTI. This includes – inter alia – the commitment to an enabling environment, the establishment of a National Multi-Stakeholder Group and the publication of timely information. The FiTI is a voluntary initiative with mandatory requirements. The implementation of the FiTI is voluntary; however, once a country has decided to participate, mandatory requirements must be followed.

The FiTI in built on a multi-stakeholder governance structure, ensuring that stakeholders from government, companies and civil society are equally represented. This multi-stakeholder governance will be applied at an international level through an International Multi-Stakeholder Board as well as in all participating countries through National Multi-Stakeholder Groups. The FiTI will provide clear procedural guidelines for gathering, verifying and disclosing relevant information on fisheries. A key deliverable of this process is the timely publication of a FiTI Country Report.’

FiTI has a global board, chaired by Peter Eigen, the founder of Transparency International and a Secretariat based in Berlin. Its conceptual phase, 2015-2017, was funded by the Governments of Mauretania and Guinea.  FiTi sets 12 transparency standards for member countries.

  1. Public registry of national fisheries laws, regulations and official policy documents
  2. Summary of laws and decrees on fisheries tenure arrangements
  3. Publication of all foreign fishing access agreements
  4. Publication of existing national reports on the state of fish stocks
  5. Public online registry of authorised large-scale vessels, as well as information on their payments and recorded catches
  6. Information on the small-scale sector, including the numbers of fishers, their catches and financial transfers to the state
  7. Information on the post-harvest sector and fish trade
  8. Information on law enforcement efforts, including a description of efforts to ensure compliance by fishers and a record of offences in the sector
  9. Information on labour standards in the fisheries sector
  10. Information on government transfers and fisheries subsidies
  11. Information on official development assistance regarding public sector projects related to fisheries and marine conservation
  12. Information on the country’s status regarding beneficial ownership transparency

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Besides FiTI, the main multilateral organisation taking an interest in tackling fisheries corruption is UNODC. UNODC will respond to the requests of member states, if you are in a position to make such a request. For example:

  • ‘At the request of Member States, UNODC can review penal codes and other laws related to fisheries crime to identify criminalization status and penalties in order to strengthen these criminal provisions and better facilitate addressing fisheries crime. The aim is to have a holistic legal reform on fisheries crime and the corresponding criminal procedure to ensure effective investigations, prosecutions, sentencing and penalties for all types of fisheries crime: from corruption to money laundering to tax fraud.
  • UNODC, where requested, can assist in enhancing States’ criminal justice sectors, aiming to improve fisheries law enforcement as needed. This can include specialized spheres such as financial investigations to identify illicit financial flows from the proceeds of fisheries crime, including money-laundering, countering corruption in the fishing sector and the use of containers to transport illicit products. It also includes developing practical manuals for identifying fisheries crime offences including tax evasion and money laundering. ‘


We know of two NGO-based trans-national initiatives focused on countering illegal fishing and corruption in fisheries.

Stop Illegal Fishing. This is an independent, African based Not for Profit organisation committed to ending the devastating impacts of illegal fishing across all African fisheries. It does this through a range of network-building, evidence-based investigative work, awareness-raising and policy engagement.

Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements (CFFA). The CFFA is a platform of NGOs that documents the development and environmental impacts of EU-ACP (European Union – African, Caribbean and Pacific states) fisheries relations on small-scale fishing communities. The core objective of CFFA is to promote the livelihoods and food security of costal fishing communities, through information sharing, advocacy and supporting dialogue between organisations in ACP countries and decision makers and the private sector in the EU. CFFA also plays an active role in monitoring and influencing decisions on trade, investments and political reforms in fisheries relations, including promoting economic, political and social rights for small-scale fishers and fish processors.

Symposia and conferences

In addition, symposia and conferences are being held by international organisations as first steps towards a more transnational approach. Fish Crime is a series of high-level symposiums organized by governments and international organisations initiated in 2015. FishCRIME 2015 was a first step towards initiating a global dialogue amongst diverse experts, academics, governments and international agencies on the topic of fisheries crime. The momentum of this conversation continued in FishCRIME 2016 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where the focus was on addressing fisheries crime throughout the value chain. FishCRIME 2017 drew together high-level participants and international experts to highlight and advance commitment to tackling the transnational and inter-continental nature of fisheries crime.

Our Ocean shows commitments taken by a range of countries at a EU-hosted conference to foster sustainable fisheries.

5. Ask & Connect

Contacting others really helps because corruption is a tough problem, with no ‘manual’ of how to go about tackling it. It is not just a ‘nice thing’ to do.

We find that others working in their sector round the world – whether it be a very public sector like health or a more private sector one like telecommunications – are open to being contacted and happy to respond. People everywhere really hate corruption, and this is why you’ll find lots of support for your reform ideas.

Professionals in each sector know that much of the corruption reform available guidance is generic, in reports or in the form of technical advice from institutions. They’ll be happy to get down to sector level actions, where the real impact of corruption issues is usually seen.

Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Ask us. We may be able to offer ideas and/or point you to relevant examples. Just contact us directly at
  2. Get in touch with the people at the transnational organisations outlined in Section 4 of each of the sector reviews. Ask them for their help and input.
  3. Ask other readers and followers of CurbingCorruption: Use the Twitter and Linkedin buttons below or on the top of the home page.
  4. Contact the authors of any of the articles and references that we cite.  Our experience is that they are happy to respond to questions.

Contacting others also has a second benefit. Most of us who are involved in efforts against corruption, whatever their country or sector, are nervous of whether our anti-corruption ideas are plausible. Officials are aware they have no deep knowledge of how to tackle corruption and have less time to spend on this than they would like; so they are lacking in confidence. The best way to gain confidence is to talk with other people who also understand the problems in your sector.

Reading and Bibliography

Additional reading

If you wish to read more, we suggest you read the following material and links:

  1. Sumaila, U. R, Jacquet, J, Witter, A, When bad gets worse: corruption and fisheries (Chapter 7), in William, A, and Le Billion P, (Eds), Corruption, Natural Resources and Development: From Resource Curse to Political Ecology (2017), Edward Elgar
  2. European Commission, Fisheries, Illegal Fishing (IUU):
  3. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2001, International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, available at:
  4. World Ocean Review, Fisheries and
  5. UNODC 2017, Stretching the Fishnet: Identifying Opportunities to Address Fisheries Crime. Conference Edition,
  6. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Illegal Fishing, Overview,
  8. Environmental Justice Foundation, February 2016, The EU-IUU Regulation: Building on success EU Progress in the global fight against illegal fishing
  9. Environmental Justice Foundation, Issue Brief –April 2016, Improving performance in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing: the EU Regulation carding process: A Review of European Commission carding decisions


Fisheries sector: Full bibliography


Contribute your experience. Connect with us on Twitter

Connect with us on LinkedIn

Send the Editor an email