Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Imports of fishery products subject to controls to prevent illegal fishing

Imports of marine caught fishery products are controlled through a system of checks aimed at making sure that the fish was caught legally; by fishing vessels that are properly managed by the country to which they are registered.  In order to prove that an imported consignment is compliant with these rules, it must be accompanied by a catch certificate issued by the government who manages the fishing vessel.

These rules were introduced by the European Commission and apply to fish caught after the 1st January 2010.  The main piece of European law that introduces the controls is Council Regulation 1005/2008.  There have been other Commission Regulations that have provided more detail about how these controls are to be applied; these are Regulation 1010/2009 and Commission Regulation (EU) No 395/2010.  In addition Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 672/2013 has been published which sets out the EU list of vessels that have been identified as involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and are not permitted to export to the EC.

The EC Regulations are implemented into law in England by The Sea Fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing) Order 2009 (No. 3391).  This law makes the checking of catch certificates at the border the responsibility of the Port Health Authority.  Sea Fisheries officers of the Marine and Management Organisation (MMO) also have powers under the Order and Port Health work closely with them and Defra (the overall policy holder) to ensure that controls are properly applied.

Why is illegal fishing a problem and how do the checks help?

Illegal fishing has environmental, social and economic impacts.  As well as direct impacts on the sustainability of fish stocks and efforts to manage fisheries as a sustainable resource, there are also indirect impacts on local fishermen and communities who are dependent on fish stocks for their own consumption and livelihood.

Efforts to control illegal fishing by policing the waters and introducing conservation measures to protect the stocks are not alone enough; and as a result the EC introduced a Europe wide import control aimed at cutting out Europe as a market for illegal fish. 

Import Controls

Products Subject to Import Checks

The Regulation applies to imports of marine caught fishery products that are covered by Chapter 03 of the Customs code as well as Chapter 16 04 and 05.  Therefore freshwater and farmed (aquaculture) fish are all out of scope of the Regulation as are marine fish imported for ornamental purposes.  There are some additional exclusions which are set out Commission Regulation 202/2011, which include clams and other bivalve molluscs.  Shrimps and prawns as well as squid all require a catch certificate as does scampi (unless it is freshwater). 

There are no other exemptions to the Regulations for imports of samples etc all imports need a certificate. 

Composite Products

Products made up of fish and other ingredients may be covered by the Regulation.   If the fish content is over 20% and the product falls under CN Code 1604 or 1605, a catch certificate will be required.  This applies where there is any wild caught fish content.

Import conditions

Products that fall under the scope of the Regulation can only be imported when accompanied by a catch certificate issued for the consignment by the country that manages the fishing vessel(s).  A list of third countries who have notified their arrangements to issue catch certificates and are therefore permitted to export fish to the EU has been published.

If the import has come to the EU via another country (that is not the country where the vessel is registered) then some additional documentation will be required from this country detailing the information about the storage or processing of the fish.  These intermediate countries do not need to be approved to issue a catch certificate.

Catch Certificates

For processed fishery products arriving in a containerised form the catch certificate document is used more as an export document; in that it is generated as a consignment specific document at the time of export, rather than being used as a landing document and generated at the time the whole catch is discharged on the quayside.  Catch certificates should therefore match the consignment shipped particularly in terms of the weight and description of the product. 

The catch certificate is established in Annex II of Regulation 1005/2008.  (This is a model of the full certificate; however there are other alternative forms that are acceptable.)

Documents Required
  1. Original catch certificate - where the fishery products are exported from flag state (Copy if electronic e.g. Canada or Norway)

and/ or

  1. Original processing statement (Annex IV)and copy catch certificates - where the fishery products are processed in a country that is not the flag state before export.  
  2. Copy commercial documents (bill of lading, invoice and packing list)

A requirement of the legislation is that importers notify Port Health of the intended arrival of the consignment three days before it is landed.   Notification is by submission of the original catch certification documents.  (If the original is not yet available a notification should still be made pending the receipt of the original)

Documentary Check

All imports are subjected to a documentary check – an assessment of the catch certificate and accompanying commercial documentation, which may include bill of lading, invoice and packing list to ensure that the document relates to the consignment, is valid and authentic.  More detailed checks may be carried out on a risk basis which might include checking the format of the document, assessing whether stamps and signatures match those of the Government who created it and checking catch areas and conservation management rules in place.  Vessels will also be checked against the list of known IUU vessels.

Identity and Physical Checks

There is no prescribed rate for the carrying out of Identity and physical checks under the Regulation, however, where there is any discrepancy between the certification submitted and any accompanying documentation an assessment of the product and packaging may be carried out.


There is a charge for the checking of catch certification, the current charges can be found here.  The charges must be paid before the consignment can be released for free circulation.

Satisfactory checks

On satisfactory completion of the IUU checks at the port, consignments may be released for free circulation into the Community.  In order to secure the release of the consignment by HMRC  the importer/ agent will need to submit a copy of the completed catch certificate OR a copy of the release fax as proof that the checks have been carried out.

Unsatisfactory Checks

Where, following checks carried out on a catch certificate significant issues are found that cannot be resolved, a legal notice will be served.  If you feel that we have not followed the law in making this decision an appeal may be brought to a Magistrates Court. This right must be exercised within one month of the notice being served.

Products failing to satisfy import conditions may be re-exported to a country outside the EEA. However, if the consignment is deemed to have been fished illegally it could be confiscated or destroyed. 

Where there are issues with the certification and it appears that these can be resolved, there is provision within the law that the consignment can be moved to a customs warehouse pending the resolution of any issues.

Smuggled Imports

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring that consignments have been subject to checks before they are imported/ released for free circulation lies with HMRC.  The CHIEF system will check the CN code of imports to ensure that those within the scope of the regulation are held until confirmation is received from the trader that port health has carried out all the required checks.  However, port health will also carry out checks on imports to ensure that certificates are submitted where required.

Clearance of consignments not subject to checks

If your consignment is a fishery POAO but does not require a catch certificate you will also be sent a copy of the release fax stating that IUU checks are not required.  This is in case your consignment has been identified by the HMRC CHIEF system as requiring IUU checks.

Fishery products that are outside of checks can be declared on the Customs entry using Document Code Y927 and the appropriate Document Status Code “XX” and Reference details i.e. GBIUUNOTREQUIRED in SAD box 44 (item level).

Guidance and Further Information

Defra are the lead department for IUU policy in the UK, they work in conjunction with the Marine and Management Organisation

Defra Guidance

Defra Info Note 1 IUU Fishing Jul 09

Defra Info Note 2 IUU Fishing Dec 09

Defra IUU Guide weight catch certificate

MMO (an executive agency of Defra) who are responsible for the administration of controls over the UK fishing fleet and over landings of fish from fishing vessels.  MMO also are responsible as act as the UK Single Liaison Office and will undertake checks with third country Governments where there are concerns about certification.

The European Commission’s DG Mare is responsible for policy at an EU level and has published guidance and information.

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