Antarctic Fishery Controls Failing

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia, November 10, 2001 (ENS) - The paper trail to which hopes were pinned of curbing rampant illegal Antarctic fishing appears to be failing.

Huge pirate catches of toothfish are still being made, and seabird by-catches are higher than ever. The catch documentation scheme (CDS) may even benefit fishers laundering catches, the region's fisheries organization has heard.

"As it stands the CDS does little more than document the annihilation of toothfish populations and the imminent extinction of species of albatross and petrels," said ECO, the whale activists' newsletter. It said illegal fishers stand to profit from the higher prices received for laundered catch sold with appropriate documents.

The CDS, adopted by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in 1999 was brought into force more than a year ago. It was hoped to guarantee a "hook to market" paper trail that would starve illegal fishers of sales.

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Fish and birds are being wiped out by illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean (Photo courtesy NOAA)
But the 20th meeting of CCAMLR just ended in Hobart was told that estimates of illegal fishing for toothfish, known as Chilean sea bass, are now running at 7,599 metric tons in 2000 to 2001 - up 1,000 metric tons on the previous year.

Estimates of seabird deaths on longline hooks are now running at up to 90,000 annually, also up from last year. Scientists figure the total seabird kill over the past five years at nearly 400,000 - levels they say that are "entirely unsustainable," the CCAMLR delegates were told.

High catch levels have been reported this year from an area of the south Indian Ocean just outside the CCAMLR regulatory zone - an area little known before for its toothfish. ECO argues that while there is a legal fishery, such areas can be operated by the pirates.

The environmental organization has repeated its call for a moratorium on all toothfish fisheries and a temporary ban on international trade until the fishery is brought under control.

Instead, according to the umbrella environmental group, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), the meeting authorized a nine percent increase in toothfish catches.

"CCAMLR was even unable to agree a simple resolution that would have prohibited landings from pirate vessels flying flags of convenience - the one single measure that could have substantially reduced the pirate trade," ASOC said.

Greenpeace, which has been battling pirate fishers in the Southern Ocean for years, was able to claim one victory with the decision by Belize to strike five notorious pirate fishing vessels from its flag-of-convenience shipping register.

The Humane Society International called for the listing of toothfish by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

{Published in cooperation with The Antarctican.}