New Zealand Determined To Safeguard Ross Sea Toothfish

  • Simon Upton
Antarctic Affairs

This summer there is a serious threat of "pirate" vessels fishing for toothfish in the Ross Sea, " New Zealand's Minister responsible for Antarctica, Hon Simon Upton, said today.

"New Zealand is determined to draw the world's attention to this threat. We do not want these ocean pillagers in our Antarctic neighbourhood. If such vessels appear, we will be doing all in our power to identify them and the companies behind them."

"The Government has made provision for aerial surveillance activities in the Ross Sea region during the January to mid-March period when ice conditions will allow fishing in these high latitudes. This is the first time any country has carried out comprehensive surveillance of this sort close to the Antarctic continent.

"Provision has also been made for New Zealand Inspectors under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to inspect fishing vessels flagged to CCAMLR parties which may appear in the Ross Sea region.

"Information from various sources suggests that several longlining vessels which have been involved in uncontrolled fishing for toothfish in Antarctic waters may be looking at the Ross Sea for potential rich pickings. Illegal and unregulated fishing damages the local environment, kills wildlife, and challenges the credibility of the entire Antarctic Treaty System", Mr Upton said.

"New Zealand is committed to defending the Antarctic Treaty System and upholding the CCAMLR regime. The continuance of illegal toothfishing threatens to make a mockery of the regime. We are putting CCAMLR parties and the international community on notice that New Zealand will do its part to protect the Antarctic eco-system.

"The Ross sea may be out of sight, but we are determined that it should not be out of mind", Mr Upton concluded.

Additional Information

Fisheries activities in the Ross Sea region are regulated by the Commission for the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Commission is responsible for the management of marine living resources in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The

Convention 's boundary is based on the Antarctic eco-system and is defined by the Antarctic Convergence, the boundary where the cold waters of the Antarctic mix with the warmer waters of other oceans. South of New Zealand, the CCAMLR boundary follows approximately the line of the Antarctic Treaty boundary, at 60 degrees South latitude.

CCAMLR has approved a limited scientific exploratory fishery by two New Zealand vessels in the Ross Sea for a season beginning on 15 December 1998 and ending on 31 August 1999. The fishery is to be conducted under demanding precautionary conditions. The Janus and the San Aotea II, New Zealand-owned and -flagged longliners, managed by SS Fishing Ltd, have been granted permits by the New Zealand government to fish in CCAMLR waters this season.

Illegal (fishing conducted by flag vessels of CCAMLR parties without a licence) and unregulated (fishing conducted by flag vessels of non-CCAMLR parties) toothfish fishing has become a significant problem in the past three years. The great majority of the illegal and unregulated toothfish fishing has been carried out by companies and citizens of countries which are parties to the CCAMLR Convention. Often they employ elaborate company structures and flags of convenience to conceal their origins.

Information made available at the most recent meeting of CCAMLR (October/November 1998) showed the alarming extent of illegal and unregulated fishing for toothfish (Dissostichus (D.) eleginoides - Patagonian toothfish - and Dissostichus mawsoni - Antarctic toothfish). Approximately 40-50 longliners without permits, about a quarter of which were flagged to CCAMLR parties, were observed fishing for toothfish or landing toothfish product in 1997/98. CCAMLR estimated that the unreported catch for 1997/98 was 22,000 tonnes (worth about NZ$200 million), double that reported from CCAMLR-regulated fisheries.

From July 1997 to September 1998 it was estimated that 80% of unregulated toothfish catches were landed in Mauritius. The unregulated fishery moved eastwards from the South African Prince Edward/Marion Islands area, to the French Kerguelen/Crozet Islands area and the Australian Heard and McDonald Islands area. A decline in the fishery in the toothfish fishing grounds around the South African islands was a major reason for this move.

CCAMLR estimated that the potential seabird bycatch within the Convention area, principally from illegal and unregulated toothfish fishing, in the Indian Ocean sector alone was between 50,000 and 89,000 birds. This potentially comprised 31,000 to 56,000 white-chinned petrels, 11,000 to 20,000 albatrosses and 2,000 to 4,000 giant petrels. CCAMLR concluded that these levels of mortality would be unsustainable for the populations of these species breeding with the Convention area in the south Indian Ocean.

The seabird bycatch in fisheries regulated by CCAMLR where licensed fishing vessels use the precautionary practices and mitigation measures directed by the Commission is minimal in comparison.