Fishing through the cracks: The unregulated nature of global squid fisheries


Seafood represents one of the most widely traded food products globally (12), yet the movements and activities of global industrial fishing fleets remain notoriously opaque. These fleets are characterized by limited oversight of their activities (3), a shifting landscape of national and international policy and regulation (45), and highly globalized commodity chains (6), all of which contribute substantially to the challenges of transparency and traceability in the sector (7). Within these global fishing fleets, the most opaque and problematic activities are termed “illegal, unregulated, and unreported” (IUU). However, “IUU” fishing masks a huge diversity of problems with different drivers and solutions. To date, scientific literature has largely focused on the illegal aspects of IUU fishing (810), with some research directed toward the challenges of unreported fishing (1112), but fairly little work has examined the “unregulated” aspects of IUU fishing. This is further complicated by the fact that fishing labeled as unregulated also encompasses multiple meanings, and in reality, regulation manifests as layers and gradients of rules rather than a binary indicator of regulated or nonregulated activities.

This relative inattention toward unregulated fishing—understood here as the complete lack, or extreme limitation of regulations to manage a fishery—is not because it is less challenging than its illegal and unreported counterparts. Unregulated fishing is problematic and difficult to address for several key reasons. First, a fundamental assumption of resource management is that in the absence of regulation and communication between actors, the incentives of individual users will often lead to overexploitation and underinvestment in the health of the resource system (13). While scholars have questioned the frequency with which these “open access” conditions occur in reality (1416), globalized fleets of unregulated industrial fishing vessels are a close approximation of the conditions under which this overexploitation is expected to occur.