The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will end tonight after two weeks of intensive discussions in Hobart.

The Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division Dr Sharman Stone said she was intensely disappointed that agreement had not been reached on what Australia considered was one of the key new strategies to help combat illegal fishing in Antarctic waters.

“Australia has taken the lead in combating illegal fishing for toothfish. This year we put on the table and worked hard to achieve support for the proposal that would see centralised monitoring of the exact position of fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean,” Dr Stone said.

“Australia’s proposal, developed in conjunction with the US and New Zealand, had the backing of the majority of members of the Commission, but as the meeting takes its decisions by consensus, every one of the 24 members have to agree to finally approve the proposal,” Sharman Stone said.

“It is a great disappointment that such a technically feasible and effective system has not been given the green light by the total membership. Centralised vessel monitoring would be enormously helpful. If we are serious about protecting threatened toothfish then we need a cooperative system such as the one proposed.

“If we had had this measure in place the Commission’s Secretariat would have been able to track, in real time, the location of fishing vessels. We could rapidly detect if fishing was occurring in the wrong place. In addition, such a system would allow very accurate verification that fish taken to market do come from where it is reported they have been caught”, Dr Stone said.

“Negotiations have been intense over the past two weeks, but at the end of the day all it takes is one nation not to agree and we don’t get the result. We had overwhelming support on the need for a system and strong agreement on its technical requirements. The sticking point was Argentina, which was concerned about the confidentiality of data sent to a central point. This is extremely disappointing as vessel monitoring has been proven to work elsewhere in the world,” Dr Stone said.

Under current arrangements flag States must operate their own vessel monitoring systems, but there has been inconsistency in their application. For example, the fishing vessel Viarsa 1 recently chased across the Southern seas, reported it was thousands of kilometres from its actual location.

Dr Stone said that the proposal was not completely dead.

“We will not give up on this strategy to save species from over fishing. Australia will work towards agreement for a trial before the next CCAMLR meeting, so we can assure the objecting nation that the system has integrity. We believe a centralised system can work and will make a difference in the fight to protect toothfish,” Dr Stone said.