Fair Catch

About 65% of the seafood we eat in Australia is imported. Currently, those imports are allowed into the country and onto our plates without any rules or standards for traceability, sustainability, or ethics.

Without rules or standards on imported seafood, Australia risks being a dumping ground for seafood from illegal, destructive and exploitative fisheries and farms. Along with our poor traceability and labelling requirements, it’s challenging to know what we’re really eating and where it’s from.

It's time for action – we want strong import rules and better labelling for all seafood sold in Australia, to ensure a fair catch.

Australia currently has no laws that prevent the import and sale of unethical, destructive or exploitative wild-caught or farmed seafood into our market. Without these laws, Aussies may unknowingly be eating the products of practices such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

We rely on imported seafood to meet Australian appetites – our own fisheries and fish farms simply do not produce enough. While our own industry has to meet minimum sustainability and ethical standards, unfortunately imported seafood does not.

Compounding this problem, there are also no requirements to trace seafood, whether local or imported, from where it was caught or farmed, through the supply chain, to your plate. This lack of traceability along with Australia’s deficient product labelling laws leaves buyers in the dark.



Two people silhouetted against the background of a ship or shipyard are emptying a large basket over their heads of fish.

© Biel Calderon / Greenpeace


Australia’s inadequate legal landscape leaves Aussies unknowingly buying and eating seafood from questionable sources. 

Imported seafood being sold in Australia can contribute to:

  • Consumers not knowing exactly what they are eating, where it is from, how it was caught or farmed, and by whom
  • The global decline of fish populations, putting the future of wild-caught seafood and the health of our oceans at risk
  • The death of threatened species of turtles, sharks, seabirds, whales and dolphins when they are caught or entangled in nets and lines
  • Poor worker conditions and modern slavery in overseas fishing, farming and processing industries
  • Putting local jobs and industry at risk as they have to compete with cheap imported substitutes that don’t meet the same standards as Australian products.

The European Union and the USA have implemented stronger rules for imported seafood to close their markets to IUU fishing, and Japan is now following their lead. With these major global seafood importers taking action, Australia is behind the curve and at risk of becoming a dumping ground for dodgy seafood.



The image shows two large ships out at sea the one on the left being larger. In between the two ships are some layered nets which the ships are using to transship their catch.

© Alex Hofford / Greenpeace – Tuna transshipment



The same rules for all seafood
Dodgy imports also impact our local seafood market. Australian seafood has to meet various sustainability and ethical rules, but imported seafood doesn’t. Our local fisheries and farmers that follow the rules are being undercut by cheap imported seafood that doesn’t have to meet the same standards.

While Australia’s seafood isn’t perfect, they generally meet higher standards than many of the countries we import seafood from.
It’s important to create a level playing field for Australian jobs, communities and the local fishing industry that already fish sustainably and treat their workers properly.

Learn more about the problem

IUU fishing stands for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing.

Illegal – when any national, regional, or international regulations are broken. This refers to unlicensed 'pirate' fishing vessels operating outside the laws of any country. It also includes legitimate vessels breaking the rules, like using banned fishing methods, fishing at times or in areas where they shouldn’t (like marine protected areas), taking more than the allowed catch, or taking banned species.

Unreported – when fishing activities and catches are not reported where it is required by law, or they are misreported or under-reported. Unfortunately, there are often weak or even no laws around reporting. For example, there can be a lack of requirements to report unwanted and discarded catch, or to record details of all species landed. Poor reporting makes it very hard to manage fisheries sustainably, but is not always illegal!

Unregulated – when fishing vessels operate in areas and/or target species with no or few relevant regulations. This can be fishing vessels operating in an area and targeting species managed by a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO), but either not flagged (stateless), or flagged under a nation that is not a member of the RFMO. (Note: there is a lack of clarity on what constitutes ‘unregulated’ in national waters unless there are clear RFMO obligations adopted by that country. There is even less clarity for areas of the high seas where there is no RFMO.)

Image from US Coast Guard USCGC Munro

IUU fishing is a significant global problem jeopardising ecosystems, food security, and livelihoods around the world. An estimated 20% of globally traded seafood comes from IUU sources.

IUU fishing can be highly exploitative and undermines international efforts to prevent overfishing, habitat destruction, and bycatch of non-target fish species and other marine animals. It compromises the sustainability of legal fishing operations, as well as the economic and social development of communities that rely on fishing for their livelihoods.

Ethical concerns with IUU fishing extend past sustainability. These practices are frequently associated with poor labour standards, and with transnational crime, such as drug trafficking and slavery at sea. IUU fishing, labour abuses and slavery have the same root causes – a lack of monitoring and enforcement, overfishing, and the demand for cheap seafood.

As fish populations have declined in coastal waters, fishers have to travel farther to find fish. This increases the costs of fuel and labour, so unscrupulous vessel owners and captains cut costs by breaking rules and mistreating their crews and the environment.

Crew conditions on these fishing vessels can be brutal including 20 hour workdays; lack of basic sanitation and safety measures, resulting in injury and illness; cramped sleeping conditions; and limited and poor quality food and drinking water. Crews also report sexual harassment, verbal and physical abuse, debt bondage, torture, human trafficking and slavery, and murder.

Serious labour abuses are a particular problem on fishing vessels travelling far from home and operating on the high seas, beyond national waters. Remoteness, isolation and long periods at sea make it easier to hide poor conditions on board fishing vessels. These vessels often transfer their catches to ‘motherships’ or carrier vessels – known as ‘transshipment’ – so that they don’t have to return to port for months or even years. This makes it easier to hide illegal catches within legal ones, while making it very difficult for authorities to monitor their activities or for abused crew to escape.

Image © Biel Calderon / Greenpeace

International action to combat IUU fishing includes:

1. Strengthening national and international regulations, and increasing funding and cooperation to ensure these are applied and enforced

2. The use of satellite and electronic monitoring systems to track fishing vessels

3. Onboard independent observers and cameras

4. Preventing IUU vessels from accessing ports to offload fish, refuel, restock, and make repairs (known as the Port State Measures Agreement)

5. Improving traceability and transparency throughout the seafood supply chain

6. Stronger import controls that close the market to illegal seafood.

It’s much easier to hide the sources of dubious products when traceability and labelling requirements are weak.

In Australia, there are no comprehensive and consistent traceability requirements to be able to verify seafood product information from point of catch, along the supply chain to the end buyers, for seafood.

Our seafood labelling laws for seafood at point-of-sale are very basic and inconsistent. Retailers can use generic names like ‘fish’ or ‘prawns’ along with the country it was imported from (but not necessarily where it was caught). Major supermarkets and some brands voluntarily provide more information on their labels, but this is inconsistent. Restaurants, cafes and other food vendors don’t even have to show the country of origin of their seafood.

This must change – people have a right to know what species they are eating, where it is from, how it was caught or farmed, and who by.

Our campaign

The time is right for the Australian government to implement strong laws on imported seafood. This will drive a shift towards more sustainable and ethical practices in the countries we import seafood from, provide a more level playing field for our domestic industry, and reward those at home and abroad who are doing the right thing.

Our campaign calls for the government to put in place laws and policies that ensure:

  1. All seafood in Australia is fully traceable and properly labelled throughout the supply chain – from farm or boat to plate. Ensuring seafood is fully traceable will prevent market access by a significant proportion of IUU fisheries
  2. Australia has minimum standards to close the market to illegal and unethical imported seafood products, and works with key seafood exporting countries to ensure we all meet our international commitments focused on protecting marine life and those who work in the seafood industry
  3. Labelling laws empower seafood buyers to make an informed choice about what species they are eating, where it is from, how it was caught or farmed, and who by.

We’re not alone – AMCS is a key member of the Fair Catch Alliance, a group of conservation and human rights organisations and local seafood industry members who are campaigning for stronger seafood import controls.

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