Hobart, Australia: An international request that Malaysia and Singapore take action to ensure their ports are closed to blacklisted fishing vessels which are illegally poaching in Antarctic waters has been applauded by WWF.
According to the 25 nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR ) vessels known to illegally fish for toothfish have been returning to Singapore and Malaysian ports after filling their holds with Patagonian toothfish in the southern oceans.
“These poachers have been able to continue harming the Southern Ocean ecosystem because they have been able to find ways to get illegally caught toothfish to market”, said Rob Nicoll WWF’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean Initiative Manager. “These fishers will continue to cause harm to the Southern Ocean as long as some gaps exist.”
The fish are repacked for the Chinese market, sometimes in packaging purporting to mark premium legally caught fish.
Exploiting the Hong Kong loophole
It is believed that some of the toothfish landed in Malaysia and Singapore are coming to Hong Kong, which did not accede to CCAMLR together with the rest of China – meaning there is no obligation to ensure toothfish coming into Hong Kong are not from illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, can fetch up to $20 US dollars per kg landed and the equivalent of $US 75 a kg for fish fillets at the retail level. The fish have long been a favoured target of fishing pirates.
“Unregulated operators are using loopholes in international law to fish outside the framework of CCAMLR, which negatively impacts on legal operators” said Coaltion of Legal Toothfish Operators President, Martin Exel. “We’re pleased that CCAMLR has taken such rapid action to alert the governments of Singapore and Malaysia to the IUU operations of these boats.”
Governments can close markets to illegally caught toothfish by developing their cooperation with CCAMLR or closing ports to boats, or products from boats, on CCAMLR’s IUU blacklist.
WWF is urging governments to sign, ratify and implement the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (FAO Port State Agreement), which sets consistent standards for the use of ports by foreign flagged fishing vessels, catch verification, transshipment guidelines and for the exclusion of blacklisted vessels.
CCAMLR has closed a number of toothfish fisheries in the Southern Ocean due to the impact of illegal fishers – but despite the best efforts of CCAMLR and legal fishers to implement a catch documentation scheme and other measures to eliminate IUU fishing for toothfish it remains a significant problem.
CCAMLR estimates of IUU fishing for toothfish have been revised upwards by 30 to 50 percent, for two of the last four years – with even these numbers still considered as underestimates in some quarters.
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