Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Sea Fishing and the Law

Combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU)

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.

Europe wide import controls, introduced by the EC in 2008 and assimilated into UK legislation from 1st January 2021, aim to cut out Europe and the UK as a market for illegal fish.

In order to prove that an imported consignment is compliant with regulations, it must be accompanied by a catch certificate issued by the government (flag state) that manages the fishing vessel.

Checking catch certificates at the border is the responsibility of the Port Health Authority. 

Port Health works with sea fisheries officers of the Marine and Management Organisation (MMO) and Defra (the overall policy holder) to ensure that controls are properly applied.

Import Controls

Products Subject to Import Checks

The Regulation applies to imports of marine caught fishery products. 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 including clams and other bivalve molluscs. However, shrimps and prawns as well as squid and cuttlefish all require a catch certificate as does scampi (unless it is freshwater). 

There are no other exemptions to the Regulations. 

Composite Products

Products made up of fish and other ingredients may be covered by the Regulation. If the product falls under CN Code 03, 1604 or 1605, a catch certificate will be required. This applies where there is any wild caught fish content. You may be asked to provide written confirmation from HMRC Tariff Classification team of the commodity code for your goods.

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 (flag state) that manages the fishing vessel(s).  

A list of countries who have notified their arrangements to issue catch certificates and are therefore permitted to export fish to the EU and the UK has been published.

If the import has come to the UK 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. Intermediate countries do not need to be approved to issue a catch certificate..

The import conditions apply to imports from all countries including imports from the EU, EEA and EFTA countries. Please see the website for more details. If you are not sure if catch certificate documentation is required please contact the Port Health Authority responsible for the point of import. If a consignment does not require catch certification the importer will need to provide a written statement quoting the consignment details and explaining why a catch certificate is not required (e.g. the fish are farmed).

Catch Certificates

For processed fishery products arriving from the same country as the flag state of the vessel in a containerised form the catch certificate document is used more as an export document. 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. 

Original catch certificates should therefore match the consignment shipped particularly in the weight and description of the product.


A requirement of the legislation is that importers notify Port Health of the intended arrival of the consignment at the following times:

    * 72 hours in advance for imports by sea (containerised)

    * 4 hours in advance for imports by road (trailers on the ferry)

Please note: these are minimum pre-notification times, and the Port Health Authority may require notifications sooner than these.

The required information from the IUU documents must be inputted to IPAFFS as part of the same CHED-P declaration.

You no longer need to do the following for imports through Felixstowe and Harwich:

  • Create a separate IUU notification on PHILIS DES – all IUU documentation must be on IPAFFS.
  • Send in original IUU documentation – all IUU documentation must be on IPAFFS.
  • The importer’s declaration will no longer need to be completed provided that all the correct IUU documents are uploaded to and declared on IPAFFS.

Please note that IUU documentation includes the following: catch certificates, processing statements (aka Annex IV), proof of storage documents (aka Article 14(1)) and statistical documents (only applicable to specific species, for example Bluefin Tuna, Swordfish).

Guidance on how to complete this can be found in the attached documents below:

Documents Required

Catch certificate(s)

Required when the country exporting the fish is the same as the country where the catching vessel is registered (flag state), the catch certificate must be issued by that country. The format of the certificate (printed or electronic) may vary depending on the issuing country’s regulations, such as those of Canada or Norway.

Processing statement (Annex IV) and copy catch certificate(s)

Required when the fishery product(s) are processed (before export) in a country that is not the same as the flag state of the catching vessel.

Storage document with copy catch certificate(s)

Required when the fish is stored (before export) in a country that is not the same as the flag state of the catching vessel and/or processing country.

Importers declaration

The Importers declaration no longer needs to be completed for catch certificates uploaded to IPAFFS as part of the CHED-P declaration. 

Copy commercial documents

Bills of lading/CMR, invoice and packing list

Checks we make to verify legality of products

Documentary Check

All imports are subjected to a documents check to ensure they relate to the consignment, are 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 that 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

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 checking catch certification. All 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 circulation into Great Britain. 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 IUU release document (issued by Port Health via email to the importer’s representative) 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 UK (provided the receiving country competent authority is in agreement). 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 CDS 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 product of animal origin (POAO) but does not require a catch certificate this will be recorded on the CHED-P in IPAFFS. This is in case your consignment is identified by HMRC CDS system as possibly requiring IUU checks.

Fishery products that do not need 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). Please refer to for the most up-to-date advice on Customs entry declarations.

Further guidance

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.