A quick look at the 2013 list of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) shows why fishing illegally is an easy option for some: The vast majority of vessels in the list are only identified by temporary markers.
There is little evidence of where they are registered or what may be their true identity, since names and call signs can be changed. Only one vessel in the list carries an indelible mark of its true identity: A unique number assigned to it by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Until December 2013 traditional fishing vessels – however large – had been exempted by the IMO of the obligation to obtain a number. Now this exemption no longer exists, but it is up to IMO member flag States to change their internal laws to effectively bind their fishing vessels to the obligation of obtaining an IMO number.
Three Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have put in place requirements for large fishing vessels registered to fish in their areas to obtain IMO numbers. These are CCAMLR, ICCAT and WCPFC.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) have not put in place an effective obligation for vessels over 24 metres registered to fish in its catchment area to obtain IMO numbers: The wording of resolutions 13/2 and 13/7 reads as simply enabling the notification of the fishing vessel IMO number to the IOTC once obtained.
An amendment has been proposed this month by the European Union to correct this. It requests that all IOTC craft authorised to operate in the area and any foreign vessels fishing in the IOTC for regulated species are obliged to obtain an IMO number by 1 January 2016.
Further, the proposal also concerns an older IOTC resolution (12/05) whereby large long-liners are authorised to carry out transhipment operations in the IOTC area. Resolution 12/05 does not mention IMO numbers, but the proposal intends to introduce a compulsory requirement for the IMO number of vessels receiving catch during transhipment to be communicated to the IOTC.