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Where do “Undocumented” Fish Land? An Empirical Assessment of Port Characteristics for IUU Fishing

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Research on IUU fishing has identified the importance of ports of convenience as facilitators of IUU fishing activities. These types of ports allow IUU fishing vessels to offload their illegal catch undetected and transfer it via other methods to target destinations and into international markets. No study to date has explained what port characteristics make them attractive to IUU fishing vessels. Applying the risky facilities framework, this study empirically tests ports’ traits that facilitate vessel entry and offloading of illegal catch. A total of 120 ports visited by IUU fishing vessels are studied for measures of regulation of behavior and degree of enforcement activity occurring within their jurisdiction. Additionally, country-level characteristics are examined. Policy recommendations are devised to inform change in place management practices and to discourage IUU fishing activities.

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  1. Under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, a coastal country has sovereignty over the sea up to 200 nautical miles from its coast. This area is a country’s exclusive economic zone or EEZ (Epps and Graham 2011).

  2. Transshipment refers to the transfer of consignments from one fishing vessel to another vessel, usually a refrigerated cargo vessel, and is carried out in both ports and at sea (EJF n.d.).

  3. These include Port Louis (Mauritius), Cape Town (South Africa) the Tanger Exportation Free Zone (Morocco) (DFID 2008), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Victoria (Seychelles) (Rigg et al. 2003), Qingdao (China), Tanjung Priok (Indonesia), Walvis Bay (Namibia), Montevideo (Uruguay), and Tenjog Pelepas (Malaysia) (HSTF 2006).

  4. The 2005 International Plan of Action-Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU fishing) is an international agreement proposed by the UN and was designed to help countries in their effort to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal fishing. IPOA-IUU fishing urges coastal States to implement effective control and surveillance in their waters, as well as develop port control measures.

  5. The Pew Environmental Group is an independent non-profit organization with a branch dedicated to environmental issues.

  6. The explanation of how ports were selected and the movements of IUU fishing vessels recorded can be found here:

  7. Data on number of vessels was recorded two ways: daily number of arrivals to port during March and April 2014, and real-time number of vessels at port recorded once a month during 7 months (November 2013–April 2014). A correlation analysis of these two variables shows a very strong positive correlation coefficient (r = .92, p < .01). Daily number of arrivals from port has been used in the statistical analyses, as it constitutes a more accurate representation of vessel traffic.

  8. Recording the data for 7 months minimizes seasonal effects. Data were recorded around the 6th of each month, at different times of the day to account for day of the week and time of the day variations. Analyses of the data collected on different months show a consistent strong positive correlation coefficient.

  9. Paris MoU, Tokyo MoU, Acuerdo de Viña del Mar, Caribbean MoU, Abuja MoU, Black Sea MoU, Mediterranean MoU, Indian Ocean MoU, Riyadh MoU.

  10. These include Albania, Madagascar, Montenegro, Syria, Tonga.

  11. These include Russia, party to the Paris MoU, Tokyo MoU, and Black Sea MoU; Peru, party to Tokyo MoU and Acuerdo de Viña del Mar; and Australia, party to Tokyo MoU and Indian Ocean MoU.

  12. According to the International Trademark Association (2006), “a free trade zone (FTZ) is a specified area within the territorial jurisdiction of a country where there is either a minimum or no customs control on entry or exit of goods. A free port (FP) is characterized by its whole harbor plants (sheet of water, quays, wharves, warehouses, factories, etc.) that are considered by law outside the customs boundaries. FTZ’s and FP’s are not subject to such standard government restrictions on trade as Customs treatment, banking laws, taxation, labor laws, and economical laws and transactions” (“Background” section, paragraph 1).

  13. These sources include Free Trade Zone and Port Hinterland Development (UN ESCAP 2005), the list of Free zones in existence and in operation in the European Community (European Commission and Taxation and Customs Union 2013), the list of U.S. Foreign-Trade zones (International Trade Administration 2013), as well as

  14. For ‘country level of illegal fishing’ (t(84) = −2.35, p < .01), ‘country score on catch inspections schemes’ (t(85) = −2.03, p < .05) and ‘country corruption index score’ (U = 926, z = −1.89, p < .05), ‘average daily vessel traffic in port’ (U = 608, z = −1.57, p < .10), ‘average daily fishing vessel traffic’ (U = 524, z = −2.00, p < .05), ‘harbor size’ (U = 744, z = −2.76, p < .01), ‘free port’ (χ 2 (120) = 4.71, p < .05).

  15. For ‘rate of vessels inspected per 1000 arrivals’ (U = 415, z = −2.06, p < .05).


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Correspondence to Gohar A. Petrossian.



List of Ports Visited Four or More Times by IUU Fishing Vessels from 2004 to 2009

Port name


# of visits of IUU fishing vessels 2004-09






































Ivory Coast









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South Korea























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Petrossian, G.A., Marteache, N. & Viollaz, J. Where do “Undocumented” Fish Land? An Empirical Assessment of Port Characteristics for IUU Fishing. Eur J Crim Policy Res 21, 337–351 (2015).

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