Illegal Antarctic toothfish catches have risen from 3% of the total catch to 17% since 2003 according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and TRAFFIC. Toothfish, more euphemistically known as Chilean Sea Bass, gained popularity with diners and chefs in the 1990s because of their moist flesh. Populations of this species, which is slow to reach sexual maturity, quickly declined. Although the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) regulates toothfish catches, such regulations cannot be effective in preserving numbers if illegal fishing runs rampant.
WWF and TRAFFIC recently presented a report to CCAMLR urging member states to increase trade sanctions against countries that fail to adquately police their countries' ships when they engage in illegal fishing. Although patrolling can discourage illegal fishers, they often just move to less-monitored areas. The report also advocates greater monitoring of legal ships and catches and urges CCAMLR to incorporate additional information into its estimates of IUU fishing, which the report asserts are lower than the actual percentage. Inaccurately low estimates of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing cause a number of problems. CCAMLR catch limits, which incorporate IUU estimates, may be higher than the population can actually support. Other measures designed to prevent bycatch or incidental mortality of other species and environmental damage will be less effective because IUU fishing vessels are unlikely to use them. CCAMLR should seriously consider the report's recommendations and take action to prevent illegally obtained toothfish from reaching the market. Without more consistent enforcement, this valuable fish could be driven to the brink of extinction.
For more information, check out ASOC's paper on the need for trade measures to promote compliance in enforcing existing fishing regulations in CCAMLR.