International support to combat illegal Antarctic fishing

27 October 2003

Australia's moves to curb illegal fishing in Antarctic and subantarctic waters has the backing of key participants who will also be attending the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) starting in Hobart today.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Heritage Dr Sharman Stone said that in particular, Australia's proposal for a centralised vessel monitoring system in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing had gained the co-sponsorship of New Zealand and the US and the support of a number of other CCAMLR Members.

Representatives from over 20 countries, all fellow members of CCAMLR, are in Hobart for two weeks of high-powered negotiation, finishing on 7 November.

"A centralised vessel monitoring system will allow CCAMLR Members to independently verify and validate the position of their fishing ships and their movements, with data fed back to the Hobart CCAMLR secretariat," Dr Stone said.

"Recently a 21-day hot pursuit led to the arrest of the Uruguayan-flagged ship Viarsa 1 and subsequent charging of crew for illegal taking of toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

"Australia is determined to make it too tough for poachers," Dr Stone said.

"Illegal fishing is particularly frustrating for those countries who insist their nationals take a responsible approach to sustain fish stocks through catch limits in the Southern Ocean.

"Fish poaching not only depletes fish stocks but the impact on seabirds caught up in the process can also be catastrophic with thousands of albatross and other vulnerable species killed each year.

"The Australian Government is determined to ensure toothfish and other species survive, but we cannot achieve this outcome alone," Dr Stone said.

Australia will support additional measures designed to strengthen the current catch documentation system to make it more difficult for illegal operators to land their fish and falsely claim it was caught lawfully.

CCAMLR's Australian delegation is led by the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Press. The Australian delegation is made up of representatives of Commonwealth, State and Territory Government departments, led by the Australian Antarctic Division, and conservation groups and the fishing industry. Together they contribute the scientific and policy advice.

"In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, where species have been driven to near extinction, all CCAMLR Members need to continue to cooperate to strengthen and improve the effectiveness of international controls to preserve and protect our Antarctic marine living resources," Dr Stone said.

"Toothfish are being overfished and we cannot afford to delay introducing effective methods of reducing poaching. In other locations, toothfish have been reduced to near commercial extinction in very short periods."

Dr Stone said there is also significant new legal fishing interest in the Southern Oceans.

"One of the tasks of the CCAMLR meeting will be to agree to total allowable catches in various zones, and the dates when this fishing can occur.

"So in the absence of detailed data, CCAMLR Members take the precautionary approach to ensuring the conservation of fish stocks. Toothfish are clearly in need of precautionary measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of their stock," Dr Stone said.