The twenty-first meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was held in Hobart from 20 October to 1 November 2002. The Scientific Committee’s Working Group on Fish Stock Assessment met in the two weeks prior to the Commission meeting and the Commission’s informal working group on Catch Documentation Scheme for toothfish also met on 17 and 18 October 2002. The Australian delegation was led by Dr Tony Press, Director of the Australian Antarctic Division.

Arguably the most important issue at CCAMLR XXI was illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for toothfish and how to combat it. CCAMLR estimated that IUU catches of toothfish inside the Convention Area continued to increase, up from 8802 tonnes in the 2000–01 season (December to November) to 10,898 tonnes in the 2001–02 season. The IUU catch for the 2001–02 season inside Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone around Heard and McDonald Islands was 2500 tonnes, up from 2004 tonnes in the previous season.

Toothfish catches on the high seas outside the Convention Area fell from 19,299 tonnes to 14,659 tonnes, due mainly to the decline of 4097 tonnes to 11,213 tonnes in catches claimed to have come from statistical areas 51 and 57. The large majority of the Commission accepted that virtually all catches attributed to Areas 51 and 57, which lie immediately to the north of the Convention Area in the Indian Ocean region, are IUU catches taken inside the Convention Area, in contravention of CCAMLR’s conservation measures, and misreported as having come from outside the Area.

The Commission was presented with strong evidence from Australia and some other Members that IUU fishing had become a form of international, organised crime with the nationals and vessels of several CCAMLR Members heavily involved. Of particular concern, given the fears of some Members’ involvement expressed at CCAMLR XX, was the clear failure of the same Members to implement existing CCAMLR obligations to combat IUU fishing, especially those relating to monitoring of their fishing vessels.

A number of stronger measures to combat IUU fishing were proposed, including by Australia, with the Commission agreeing:

  • to strengthen the toothfish Catch Documentation Scheme in several ways and to trial an electronic version of the Scheme, a change which should offer reduced opportunity for fraud and facilitate movements of fish in trade;
  • to establish a ‘black list’ of vessels involved in IUU fishing;
  • to update the satellite-based, vessel monitoring system (VMS) requirements, although, critically and disappointingly, there was not consensus for a centralised VMS; and
  • to strengthen conservation measures aimed at improving compliance by Contracting Party and non-Contracting Party vessels with CCAMLR’s measures.

Australia’s proposal to nominate toothfish to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was strongly opposed by the large majority of CCAMLR Members.

CCAMLR XXI agreed to a number of proposals to conduct exploratory fishing for toothfish, including those from Australia. It also set new catch limits for established fisheries, including those around Heard Island where the annual allowable catch in the 2002–03 season for toothfish (for trawling and longlining combined) was set at 2879 tonnes and 2980 tonnes for mackerel icefish.

In other scientific developments, CCAMLR XXI agreed to hold an intersessional workshop to explore and develop the estimation of biomass of icefish using acoustic techniques. Australia will participate in this. There was also agreement to subdivide the main krill fishing grounds into small scale management units that take better account of the needs of krill predators and the krill fishery, and more accurately reflect the distribution of krill. The adoption of such ecologically appropriate units for managing the region’s largest fishery is the culmination of a series of initiatives advanced, mostly by Australia, since 1987. The next step is to subdivide the catch limit on krill into these small scale units. The Commission also adopted standardised data reporting from the krill fishery, a move which should provide for better understanding of the relationships between the distribution of the fishery and krill stocks.

Ian Hay
Southern Ocean Task Force