Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

How to get an IUU Fishing Regulation catch certificate, and how the EU system for fisheries controls works.


The problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has intensified with an increase in the world demand for fish and stricter regulations on legal fishing. In turn this has had a big environmental, social and economic impact.

IUU fishing reduces fish stocks and makes it harder to manage fisheries sustainably, which affects the livelihood of local fishermen and can be detrimental to the marine environment.

The EU is the world’s biggest market for fish, importing fish from countries around the world, but it was estimated that over €1 billion worth of fishery products imported into the EU every year were illegal.

To prevent this, the EU introduced the IUU Fishing Regulation. This requires that fish coming into the EU have a validated catch certificate to show that the fish has been caught legally.

The EU Control Regulation enforces the common fisheries rules and harmonises catch checks, traceability and sanctions across the EU.

This guide explains when a catch certificate is needed and how to complete it. It explains how the EU system for fisheries controls functions.

How illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing affects the industry

Demand for fish and fishery products continues to increase and, at the same time, the fishing industry is becoming more strictly regulated. This demand for fish and stricter regulations has led to an increase in the amount of IUU fish entering world markets. Much of the illegal fish comes from countries where there is weak fisheries regulation and control.

IUU fishing directly affects:

  • the long-term sustainability of fish stocks
  • the management of fisheries as a sustainable resource
  • the livelihood of fishermen - particularly in poorer countries where people depend on income from fishing activities
  • a nation’s revenue, for example from landing and licence fees, and taxes that would be paid by legitimate fishing businesses
  • marine wildlife and habitats
  • coastal communities, particularly those in the developing world which depend on fish as a main source of protein

As a major consumer, the EU has a key role to play in preventing IUU fishing. The EU carries out this role through:

  • The IUU Fishing Regulation, which aims to ensure that all fishery products traded to and from the EU are in full compliance with all relevant conservation and management measures.
  • The Control Regulation, which applies to all fishing activities in EU waters, including those of third country vessels. It also applies to all EU vessels, irrespective of where they operate - including outside EU waters. This Regulation sets out the zero-tolerance system for controlling and enforcing the Common Fisheries Policy.
  • The Regulation on Fisheries Authorisations, which deals with the licencing of EU vessels fishing outside EU waters and of third-country vessels fishing in EU waters.

Read questions and answers on EU fisheries control rules on the European Commission’s (EC) Fisheries website.

Find monitoring and enforcement rules and how they affect masters of UK vessels on the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) website.

On-board electronic logbook software systems (ELSS)

Electronic logbooks are replacing paper logbooks for reporting fishing activities. All vessels over 12 metres in overall length should now have an ELSS installed.

You can download ELSS guidance for vessel masters from the MMO website (PDF, 129KB).

See the guide on electronic records.

Importing: catch certification scheme

To prevent IUU fishing, the EU requires trading partners to comply with the IUU Fishing Regulation. This means that fish caught and imported into the EU from a non-EU country must have a validated catch certificate to show the catch is legal. The catch certificate must be validated by the relevant authority in the flag state of the catching vessel (the country where the vessel is registered). The catch certificate must remain with the fish throughout the supply chain and is required on entry to the EU.

Third country fishing vessels must submit the original catch certification documents to pre-notify Port Health of the intended arrival of a consignment before it is landed. If the original is not yet available, you must nevertheless make the notification pending receipt of the original. If your business holds Approved Economic Operator (APEO) status, you must hold certificates but are not required to present them on import.

If you are the importer or an agent, it is your responsibility to:

  • make sure all imports of fish or fishery products within scope of the regulation have a catch certificate
  • submit the catch certificate to the appropriate UK authority

You will need to submit the original certificate but you can send an electronic copy in advance to speed up clearance checks.

The IUU catch certificate

Imports without a catch certificate cannot enter the UK. Third countries can produce their own certificates but they must all contain the information included in the official template. Small scale ‘artisanal’ fisheries can use a simplified catch certificate if they meet the criteria listed in Article 6 of the regulation.

You can find the detail on how the IUU Fishing Regulation applies in the UK in Information Notes 1 and 2 on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

Weights to include on catch certificates

Catch certificates must show accurate details of the weight of the fish in the consignment. The certificate should only show the weight of the fish actually imported into the EU, not the total weight of catch landed.

Fish products with a validated catch certificate that shows the wrong weight will not be authorised to enter the EU. If you are an importer it is your responsibility to make sure that catch certificates show the correct weight before you give them to UK enforcement authorities.

Product codes to use on catch certificates

Catch certificates must contain a correct description of the products in the consignment, including the internationally recognised six-digit product code. If a four-digit code is used, the UK enforcement authorities will carry out extra checks on the consignment. This is because the four-digit code is not enough to identify the product and to match up the fish on the catch certificate with the actual consignment. This means there’s a greater risk of illegally caught fish coming into the EU.

You can download guidance on the correct weights and product codes to include on the catch certificate from the Defra website (PDF, 199KB).

For more information about catch certification you can email the Defra IUU Team at or call the Defra Helpline on Tel 08459 33 55 77.

Exporters and catch certificates

Under the IUU Fishing Regulation you may need to get a catch certificate if you export fish to countries outside the EU.

When you need a UK catch certificate

You will need a UK catch certificate if:

If you are exporting fish and unsure of its final destination it makes sense to request a UK catch certificate. Otherwise if the consignment is re-imported to the EU it will not be allowed back in.

When a catch certificate is not required

UK catch certificates are not needed:

  • for exports of fish to another EU country
  • if the fishery product is exported outside the EU and will not be re-imported
  • if you are a UK fisherman landing fish to a third country and importing it, unprocessed, into the EU

Complete a UK catch certificate

You can complete a UK catch certificate by downloading an interactive form from the Defra website. Download the UK catch certificate from the Defra website (PDF, 96KB).

When you complete the certificate make sure you enter the correct weight and product code for the consignment.

You can download guidance on completing a UK catch certificate from the Defra website (PDF, 40KB).

Validate the catch certificate

When you have filled in all the relevant sections of the catch certificate you will need to send it to the UK IUU Catch Certificate Centre to get it validated. You can:

  • email it by clicking the submit button at the end of the interactive form
  • email it as an attachment to
  • fax a printout to the Catch Certificate Centre on Fax 0207 238 5147

You can post a copy to:

UK IUU Catch Certificate Centre
Marine Management Organisation
8 th floor Millbank
c/o 17 Smith Square

The Catch Certificate Centre will return the validated certificate to you by faxing a copy and sending the original by post.

You don’t need the catch certificate when you export the fish. It’s needed when the fish:

  • enters the third country (if that country wants this)
  • is re-imported to the EU

The APEO scheme

The APEO scheme enables eligible importers to benefit from simplified import procedures for submitting catch certificates. The scheme also offers importers a number of other advantages, including less frequent customs checks and fast-tracking through customs controls.

Importers must meet certain eligibility requirements to participate in the APEO scheme. They must, for example:

  • hold an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certificate issued by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - although both applications can be made at the same time
  • have minimum import operations of 50 consignments a year
  • meet EU criteria with regards to security and safety practices

For more information on the AEO scheme, see the guide on AEOs. Note that there are three levels of AEO status. If you intend to apply for both AEO and APEO, it is recommended that you apply for the full security and safety AEO as this will mean fewer checks will apply for the APEO process.

To register, you can access:

Further information

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Illegal fishing information on the EC Fisheries website

Fisheries news and information on the MMO website

Legislation news and other information for fishermen on the Seafish website

IUU monthly updates on the Illegal-Fishing website

IUU guidance on the EC Fisheries website

IUU Fishing Regulation guidance on the Defra website

Download a list of countries outside the EU that require a catch certificate from the EC Fisheries website (PDF, 13KB)

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