It is the summer of 2002 in the Southern Ocean. The seas are rough and a ship is hauling in a longline that was set at a depth of more than a thousand meters. The catch is illegally caught Patagonian toothfish—a white-fleshed predatory fish in the Antarctic. It is hauled on board, removed from the hook, and closely followed by an endangered albatross also hooked on the line, and another toothfish. The fishing master is pleased with the prospects of the big money he is about to make. However, the catch needs to be salvaged quickly in order to arrive at the agreed trans-shipment site before any Australian or French fisheries enforcement vessel shows up. Illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean risks resulting in the collapse of both Patagonian toothfish stocks and endangered albatross populations. In response to this looming ecological and political disaster, the international community managed to mobilize a range of critical human, technical, and financial resources. Today, official estimates show that IUU catches have been reduced substantially compared to peak catches in the 1990s. How was this possible?

Illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing is one of the biggest threats to sustaining fish stocks and marine ecosystems globally.1 All three aspects of IUU are often treated together, but they represent different levels of legal offenses. Illegal fishing is carried out in direct contravention to existing laws, whereas unregulated fishing is less of a direct legal offense. Unregulated fishing can represent a fishing activity that is carried out on ‘unregulated’ stocks that have no catch limits but can also represent fishing regulated stock with catch limits, where the fishing vessel is flagged to a country that is not part of the regulating body that has defined the quota. Unreported fishing is catch that is removed but not reported. All aspects of IUU are, despite these differences, considered serious challenges for marine resource management worldwide.2,3 Illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing remains common in many of the world’s oceans and is resulting in annual economic losses in the order of billions of dollars.3 For example, reduced fish stocks in the northern hemisphere after the 1990s was pushing fisheries vessels south,4 further away from the major markets of Europe, North America, and Japan,5,6 and also down to increasing depths.7 This movement also contributed to the emergence of IUU fishing elsewhere.2

How are Global Marine Commons Regulated?

Coastal states can declare an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline, within which they have the exclusive right to regulate their fisheries. With the exception of some disputed areas, all coastal states have declared EEZs. Much of the high-seas areas beyond these national jurisdictions are governed by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). The most important regulatory power and control over any fishing vessel is the vessel’s flag state, the country to which the vessels is flagged. However, some flag states have limited capacity and/or willingness to control their fleets.8

International Cooperation in the Southern Ocean Yields Results

Fortunately, not everything about global marine commons is bad news. There are several areas served by RFMOs that are making at least reasonable progress in fulfilling their mandates and that have well-developed legal frameworks. One of these is the Southern Ocean around Antarctica (Figure 1). In the early 1980s, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) came into effect. The Convention established the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, also called CCAMLR. The Commission is the international forum for cooperation and collaboration in marine conservation and fisheries management in the Southern Ocean. It has 25 member states (including the European Union as one member “state”) that meet annually to negotiate policy measures, review compliance, and make decisions about fishing catch limits based on scientific advice.9,10

Box 1. Illegal fishing in the Antarctic:

In the 1990s, it became clear that fish stocks around the world had been subjected to over-intensive fishing. Depletion of predatory fish stocks in the Northern hemisphere was leading to an increased fishing effort further south, including in the Southern Ocean.6 The Patagonian toothfish, primarily concentrated around sub-Antarctic islands, emerged as a promising option. The species is large and long-lived with white and fat meat. It quickly became very popular, particularly in US restaurants, where it is sold as Chilean Sea Bass.24 Patagonian toothfish were initially fished primarily along the coast of Patagonia in southern Chile and Argentina. Fishing fleets from South America and Europe discovered new stocks around the British sub-Antarctic islands of South Georgia. IUU fishing operations later expanded eastward, to the South African Prince Edward Island, the French Crozet and Kerguelen Islands, and Australia’s Heard and MacDonald Islands. Several countries within CCAMLR simultaneouly tried to develop a licensed fishery, in some of the locations where IUU operations had been pioneered.24

Since the peak of IUU fishing in the mid 1990s, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing around Antarctica has been the biggest challenge for CCAMLR over the past eighteen years (Figure 1, Box 1). In the early 2000s, CCAMLR agreed to develop a novel catch documentation scheme to combat international trade in IUU-caught toothfish.11 Extensive diplomatic resources have been directed at both flag states (with the formal responsibility for ensuring fishing vessels comply with international regulations) and port states (where IUU catches are landed and transported onwards to major markets).


Figure 1. The area (grey) in the Southern Ocean managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The area includes a United Kingdom (UK) South Georgia maritime zone and Exclusive Economic Zones around South African (ZA) Prince Edward Island, French (FR) Crozet and Kerguelen Islands, and Australian (AU) Heard Island. Norway (NO) has not declared an Exclusive Economic Zone around Bouvet Island. AR, Argentina; CL, Chile; NA, Namibia; NZ, New Zeeland; Mocambique; MU, Mauritius; UY, Uruguay. Geographical boundaries derived from and estimated weight of toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) caught by Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the area between 1995 and 2009 (official data from CCAMLR22,23).

Vessels engaged in IUU fishing that have been detected and/or apprehended have been blacklisted by CCAMLR (see They are unable to obtain fishing licenses within the CCAMLR area and are denied access to ports. Meanwhile, many countries in CCAMLR, including the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and New Zealand have devoted substantial resources to monitoring and international cooperation.12 As a result of these efforts, there has been a substantial reduction of IUU fishing (Figure 1). No new ships have been discovered fishing in the area despite a marked increase in monitoring by several CCAMLR member states (using satellites, airplanes, and patrol vessels) and the estimated amount of IUU fishing has decreased substantially (>90%) since the peak levels in the 1990s (Figure 1). Simultaneously, toothfish stocks and, particularly, albatross populations have benefitted from this dramatically reduced IUU fishing pressure.13 Detecting vessels, uncovering information on illegal landings or transport, investigating complex networks of ownerships, and securing convicting sentences for globally operating and adaptive illegal fishing operators is obviously not an easy task and has required extensive multinational cooperation. But CCAMLR has shown convincingly that there is great potential in international cooperation for conserving marine resources.

A number of lessons can be drawn from the CCAMLR ‘solution’ to IUU fishing. Here we present how international political pressure, the inclusion of non-state actors, characteristics of some highly engaged key organizations, and the development of tools that faciliate collaboration have contributed to the successful reduction of the IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean.

The Role of Political Pressure


Charles Van den Broek
Increased monitoring and cooperation among CCAMLR member states has significantly reduced IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean.

In the beginning, most identified IUU vessels were flagged to member states of CCAMLR.14</sup This created a delicate political sitution, but since these countries mostly had a well-developed capacity to address their ships’ activities, they were also able to take appropriate action and deregister the identified vessels. Several vessels received substantial fines and some were even seized and scrapped. Those that managed to escape this first round of enforcement however, developed increasingly sophisticated techniques to minimize the risk of detection and penalties.

The most common response of the remaining illegal fishery operators was to change their flag state, preferably to flag states with a more limited ability or interest in taking action.14 The name, livery, and call sign of vessels engaged illegally also tend to change continuously in order to evade compliance.

While many of the results of CCAMLR’s efforts have had a gradual impact, there are currently no identified illegal fishing vessels flagged to CCAMLR member states.14</sup In principle, however, this means that there are vessels that exist but are not subject to the CCAMLR regulations. Their fishing activities are thus ‘unregulated’ rather than illegal but still considered serious by members of CCAMLR. This spurred CCAMLR’s introduction of a blacklist as a means to impede these unregulated vessels’ activities.

Engaging Non-State Actors to Raise Awareness and Increase Capacity

Illegal fishing operators in the Southern Ocean had direct negative impacts on valuable and untapped commercial fish stocks of large interest to a growing licensed fishing industry. It also had a negative impact on globally threatened seabirds, raising the concerns of the international community that valued the Antarctic environment.15 A number of non-state actors (licensed fishing companies and environmental NGOs) quickly understood the scale of the problem with IUU fishing and rapidly formed an alliance to address this substantial challenge. Their shared, strong interest in fighting IUU fishing, both for the protection of valuable seabirds and fish stocks,16, 17 led to their active engagement in CCAMLR as observers or as members of national delegations. Governments and non-state actors do not always share the same agenda when it comes to practical management of natural resources, but in the case of CCAMLR, they fortunately did. As a result, states representing the emerging licensed industry were quick to support the development of policy measures directed at reducing IUU fishing.

Success in combatting IUU fishing did not come overnight. The consensus decision-making mechanisms used by CCAMLR took time, making rapid responses to emerging threats difficult. Success was instead achieved through persistent and sometimes prolonged negotiation. Initial attempts at combatting IUU fishing had loopholes that were only corrected several years after the implementation of some measures.10 For example, the US, one of the major markets for toothfish, enforced a unilateral ban on the import of toothfish products from some markets as an “emergency” measure, even though this was seen by some CCAMLR member states as an affront to their consensus ethos.

As CCAMLR decisions are taken by consensus, the politically contentious issue of IUU fishing initially complicated the ability of all member states to agree on adequate conservation measures to address this problem.15 However, the licensed fishing industry and the NGO community had abilities that states did not. These non-state actors published names of vessels and companies associated with IUU fishing in reports presented during CCAMLR meetings, as well as widely elsewhere in order to ensure that IUU operators would be well known. The reports used unofficial information derived from contacts in the fishing industry and from private investigators contracted by the licensed fishing industry and environmental NGOs. This ‘naming and shaming’ strategy was controversial,18 as it implicated countries, banks, and individuals as being involved in IUU fishing, but it proved effective. The publication of such material raised the overall level of awareness of IUU fishing and stimulated political will to take action.15 These measures seemingly fueled the consensus-based decision-making process, increasing the overall speed at which decisions were being made and helping to maintain the momentum of policy development through periods of political stagnation. Over time, member states have increasingly included non-state actors in their delegations to CCAMLR. There has also been a steady rise in the number of NGOs and fishing industry representatives in the CCAMLR, as well as increasingly diversified national delegations, that covers the range of competencies needed in CCAMLR.12

Facilitating Collaboration

After several years of moderately successful policy measures developed by states and substantial actions taken by non-state actors, CCAMLR subsequently developed measures that led to the current, reduced levels of IUU fishing.12 These tools were often developed as a response to crisis situations within CCAMLR triggered by IUU fishing situations (Box 2). The measures include the electronic catch documentation scheme that tracks toothfish products from vessels to markets, a black list of all vessels operating outside the agreed international framework, and an extensive system of detection and inspection of vessels, including satellite-based monitoring systems. A number of countries, notably the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and New Zealand also conduct substantial oceanic and/or aerial inspections of these remote areas as well as joint training and enforcement activities.

Box 2. Using crises as windows of opportunity for change:

The problem with IUU fishing was a substantial concern for CCAMLR, and it is clear from Commission documents that IUU fishing even represented international crises on multiple occasions..12 A first crisis was evident in 1997 at the peak of IUU fishing, when the surprising magnitude of the problem became evident to the commission. After a reduced IUU fishing activity in the late 1990s and early 2000s (much due to actions taken by NGOs), a second crisis was evident in 2003, when it was discovered that IUU fishing had reached a new peak and had now taken on a much more organized and international form. Much of this fishing was conducted around sub-Antarctic islands where a number of countries exercise their national jurisdiction and where biological productivity is high. However, in the late 2000s a third crisis became evident as IUU fishing was now discovered to be conducted in the high seas using gillnets, a fishing method with unknown consequences and where estimated IUU catches are hard to derive. All of these crises created substantial concern for Commission, but it is also clear that they created opportunities for NGOs, the licensed fishing industry, and states to implement new ideas and policies that had been difficult to address in non-crises situations..12


Figure 2. A simplified example of interorganizational cooperation. The fishing industry in country A (IndA) can communicate their suspicion of an illegal shipment of toothfish to their relevant government agency (GovA). This agency can obtain relevant information related to the IUU list and CDS from the CCAMLR secretariat and can inform colleagues in country B (GovB), where the cargo is heading. This agency can mobilize relevant partners for seizure of the suspected catch. Agencies in country B can also interact with the CCAMLR secretariat for information on the vessel and possibly also with agencies (GovX) and NGOs (NGO) in other countries for additional information of relevance for prosecution.

The catch documentation scheme and IUU list of vessels have been identified by the participating organizations as critical resources for CCAMLR (Figure 4, see also ref. 17). One of the key benefits of these innovations is that they make collaboration easier. Governments, NGOs, and the licensed fishing industry can use these devices to follow-up and easily report suspected activities, contributing to compliance monitoring at sea and in the market (Figure 2). The CCAMLR secretariat has been empowered with these tools and function as an important coordinating node in the network by facilitating this collaboration.17 There is frequent cooperation between countries, and between governments and non-state actors (Figure 3), illustrating the diverse competencies required to address such a complicated and international issue as IUU fishing. The organizations have different agendas and priorities, but they also have a common interest in combatting IUU fishing. The combination of the tools developed by CCAMLR and the coordination of the secretariat has made it easier for diverse organizations to collaborate globally for the sustainable management of Antarctic marine living resources. Indeed, collaboration expressed as government agency coordination was identified as the second most important issue after political will for combatting IUU fishing (Figure 4).


Figure 3. Networks of cooperation aimed at improving information sharing from monitoring activities at sea and aimed at reducing IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. Collaborative monitoring at sea include the following countries (squares):17 Argentina (AR), Australia (AU), Chile (CL), France (FR), Japan (JP), Korea (KR), Mauritius (MU), Mozambique (MZ), Namibia (NA), New Zealand (NZ) Norway (NO), Spain (ES), South Africa (ZA), United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Uruguay (UY); international organizations (diamonds) such as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources Secretariat (CCAMLR), Directorate General for Marine Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network (IMCS), Partnership for African Fisheries (PAF), the fishing industry (Upward pointing triangles) Argos Froyanes Ltd (ARGOS), and Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO); and environmental NGOs (circles) include the Antarctic Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and other organizations (downward pointing triangles) such CapFish and Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG).

A Core of Key Actors with Distinct Qualities Takes the Lead

As research on international environmental regimes shows, the existence of a coalition of influential actors willing and able to act for the benefit of the regime seems crucial for effectiveness.19 This finding aligns well with the case of CCAMLR —although collaboration in CCAMLR encompasses many organizations, not all are perceived as equally important for enforcement and compliance. Insights and recent research from the fields of common-pool resource management and international environmental regimes have demonstrated that organizations that stand out for accomplishing regime effectiveness in CCAMLR are engaged in certain combinations of activities and have access to certain combinations of resources.20 An individual organization does not necessarily have to be engaged in all activities and have access to all resources to be of importance. Being active in the field and politically well-connected stand out as important factors that collectively explain the perceived importance of an organization, irrespective of whether they are government agencies, international governance organizations, or NGOs. Collaboration with flag states and/or access to advanced technology are factors that the most important government agencies often share, whereas engagement in public campaigns, thereby contributing to more informal ways of applying pressure against fishing companies or member states, is typically attributed to environmental NGOs and the fishing industry. Although there appears to be a distinct division of labor between governmental agencies and non-state actors, there is some overlap among them.20 Several organizations contribute to each combination of factors, which results not only in a redundancy in organizations, but also that some organizations can fill these functions if others are faltering. All of this suggests that the capacity of CCAMLRs to adapt to and address novel challenges has benefitted from a consistently high diversity of engaged actors.20 These findings might provide some suggestions on how to develop the necessary capacity to initiate and maintain critical coalitions of organizations with sufficient resources to effectively address the problem of illegal fishing. In such a coalition, each organization is carrying out certain combinations of activities and is equipped with certain resources, which together bolsters the effectiveness of CCAMLR.


Figure 4. This diagram presents how nearly 50 organizations actively involved in addressing IUU fishing responded to the question “Assess the following resources in terms of how important they are for effectively addressing IUU fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean.” They could choose between ‘Critical,’ ‘Important, ‘ ‘Useful,’ and ‘Not important.’ The graph shows the percentage that responded ‘Critical.’


The CCAMLR has demonstrated an ability to effectively deal with the governance challenges characterizing high-seas fisheries and has suppressed IUU fishing to just a small percent of its peak value a couple of decades ago. The current major challenge for CCAMLR is to establish large areas of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean.21 In spite of significant public awareness and widespread support among many powerful member states, CCAMLR has failed several times to reach an agreement on the issue (see

Our example above shows that it is possible to achieve substantial progress with international and contested management issues. The CCAMLR has illustrated that the international community is able to collaborate in innovative ways and that the government, the fishing industry, and environmental NGOs can fill complementary functions in complex problem solving. To achieve this aim requires social trust among key individuals and perceived shared interests.12 It also requires a shared perception of the problem,17 actors that can perform complementary functions,20 and a coordinating function that facilitates collaboration.17 The future will tell if CCAMLR will be able to overcome existing collaborative barriers for establishing MPAs as they once did when combating IUU fishing or if the establishment of MPAs is a question of whether different viewpoints and interests are impossible to align. The CCAMLR has served as a source of inspiration for other regional fisheries management organizations through its international leadership in addressing IUU fishing and is in a unique position to further develop this leadership in other areas.


H.Ö. was funded by the Baltic Ecosystem Adaptive Management Program, Formas, and the Nippon Foundation. Ö.B. and H.Ö. were supported by MISTRA through a core grant to Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and Ö.B. also received support from the strategic research program Ekoklim at Stockholm University. U.R.S. thanks the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for supporting the OceanCanada Partnership.


Henrik Österblom

Henrik Österblom is Associate Professor and Deputy Science Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre. His primary focus in research is on a multidisciplinary understanding of the dynamics of marine social-ecological...


Anthony J. Press

Tony Press is an Adjunct Professor at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and the University of Tasmania. He was previously the CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems...

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