Despite the Australian Government’s efforts, including fisheries patrols like Operation Rushcutter — the first armed civilian fisheries patrol of Australian waters which concluded in May 2003 — illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing of the prized Patagonian toothfish in the waters around Australia’s Heard Island continues. Legitimate fishing by Australian flagged vessels in Southern Ocean waters outside the Heard Island EEZ were recently compromised with an unexpected encounter by IUU vessels.
The latest incident was as recent as late June 2003 when an Australian flagged fishing vessel, Janas, leaving the Heard Island region, sighted a longline fishing vessel within the CCAMLR Area. The vessel was sighted at night and immediately blacked out its lights while radar images indicated that it continued along its course — presumably to haul in its fishing gear. Janas later encountered another longline fishing vessel and at least one other vessel engaged in longline fishing in FAO Statistical Area 57, adjacent to the CCAMLR Area. The longline fishing vessel stopped the Janas from setting its fishing lines and contributed to the decision to return to port in Tasmania earlier than planned.
Three days later, a second Australian flagged fishing vessel, Southern Champion, encountered two longline fishing vessels about 100m outside the EEZ but still within CCAMLR waters. Both fishing vessels took evasive action to ensure that they were not recognised. The vessels had blanked out their home and port name and their vessel call sign and flag were not visible.
Member States of CCAMLR are investigating evidence to determine the identity of the IUU operators sighted. Australia is continuing its efforts within CCAMLR for strong measures to stamp out IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean.