Perhaps the greatest challenge facing global fisheries is that recovery often requires substantial short-term reductions in fishing effort, catches and profits. These costs can be onerous and are borne in the present; thus, many countries are unwilling to undertake such socially and politically unpopular actions. We argue that many nations can recover their fisheries while avoiding these short-term costs by sharply addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This can spur fishery recovery, often at little or no cost to local economies or food provision. Indonesia recently implemented aggressive policies to curtail the high levels of IUU fishing it experiences from foreign-flagged vessels. We show that Indonesia’s policies have reduced total fishing effort by at least 25%, illustrating with empirical evidence the possibility of achieving fishery reform without short-term losses to the local fishery economy. Compared with using typical management reforms that would require a 15% reduction in catch and 16% reduction in profit, the approach of curtailing IUU has the potential to generate a 14% increase in catch and a 12% increase in profit. Applying this model globally, we find that addressing IUU fishing could facilitate similar rapid, long-lasting fisheries gains in many regions of the world.

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R.B.C., J.M., M.C., J.L., S.D.G. and C.C. acknowledge financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Waitt Foundation. S.K., U.M., D.N., Z.A., M., A.G. and N.Z. acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia. J.M. acknowledges the support of E. Sala and the Pristine Seas team.

Author information


  1. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Reniel B. Cabral
    • , Juan Mayorga
    • , Michaela Clemence
    • , Steven D. Gaines
    •  & Christopher Costello
  2. Pristine Seas, National Geographic Society, Washington DC, USA

    • Juan Mayorga
  3. Department of Economics, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

    • John Lynham
  4. The Agency for Research and Human Resource of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Jakarta, Indonesia

    • Sonny Koeshendrajana
    • , Umi Muawanah
    • , Duto Nugroho
    •  &  Mira
  5. Fisheries and Marine Social Economic Department, Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science, Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung, Indonesia

    • Zuzy Anna
  6. Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science, University of Diponegoro, Semarang, Indonesia

    • Abdul Ghofar
  7. Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science, Bogor Agricultural University, Bogor, Indonesia

    • Nimmi Zulbainarni


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All authors contributed to research design. Analysis was undertaken by R.B.C., J.M., J.L. and C.C. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Reniel B. Cabral or Christopher Costello.

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