Australia is helping to lead the way with a new approach to combat illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean through the adoption of a centralised Vessel Monitoring System (cVMS).

Australia, New Zealand and the United States have joined forces to help convince fellow CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) Members on the value of a centralised Vessel Monitoring System to help combat the illegal fishing of toothfish. A seminar on the proposal will be held today in Canberra for representatives from Canberra missions of CCAMLR Members. The Australian Antarctic Division will host the seminar.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) said Australia has taken a lead in trying to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

“CCAMLR manages the harvesting of the living resources of the Southern Ocean and takes into account the effects of harvesting on individual species as well as the Southern Ocean ecosystem,” Dr Stone said.

“Patagonian toothfish fetches a high price on world markets and hence its targeting by poachers who do not take measures to prevent by-catch deaths, for example, albatross that are caught on baited long-line fishing hooks.

“CCAMLR has a Catch Documentation Scheme that tracks the taking, landing and trade of toothfish, however more tools are required to stop IUU fishing.”

Dr Stone said the flag States currently monitor their vessels using a Vessel Monitoring System but that it was essential that claims made by vessels about where toothfish are caught, were also able to be independently verified and validated. Dr Stone also advocated the use of tamper proof units on board fishing vessels.

“Last year the VMS onboard the Viarsa had been tampered with to show the boat was 3000 nautical miles from where it was detected inside Australian waters surrounding Heard Island by Australia's patrol vessel Southern Supporter,” Dr Stone said.

“Under the proposal, tamper-proof VMS units would operate continuously through the period the vessel was licensed to fish in the CCAMLR Area and data reports would be automatically made to the flag States fisheries monitoring service and forwarded to the CCAMLR Secretariat in Hobart within four hours.

“Australia, New Zealand and the United States have been advocating a cVMS for the last two years. The seminar aims to build support for the next CCAMLR meeting in October this year.

“Today’s seminar provides an opportunity for Members to learn more about the cVMS and understand the importance of protecting the globally important ecosystems of the Southern Ocean.”

In July this year, the Australian Government began armed patrols of Australia’s Southern Ocean waters to protect this area from illegal fishing as part of a fulltime surveillance and enforcement program.