Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Illegal fishing rears its ugly head

On December 16, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) intercepted a vessel illegally fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean. Using gillnets, which incidentally are banned in the area and were described by Glenn Sant of TRAFFIC as "invisible curtains of death." This comes on the heels of the October discovery of 130 kilometers of gillnets in areas under the jurisdiction of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). And these are just the ones that were discovered. Furthermore, this not the first vessel spotted in the Ross Sea region and even licensed vessels have been associated with IUU activity.

The Volna was an alleged IUU vessel that was accepted by all but one CCAMLR members as an IUU vessel but because of consensus decision making, its listing as an IUU vessel was blocked by one member. The next year it was licensed by CCAMLR to fish but in the end did not fish that year.

In 2008 a licensed fishing vessel the Paloma V was linked with IUU fishing. The vessel wanted to unload toothfish in Auckland in May (2008). When the boat was examined, New Zealand Fishery Officers found information linking it to vessels involved in IUU fishing (MFAT 2008). Vessel owner Omunkete Fishing (Pty) Ltd took the New Zealand Government to court claiming the vessel search was unlawful. It also tried to stop the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from reporting the information to CCAMLR, and nominating the vessel to CCAMLR’s IUU Vessel blacklist (MFAT 2008 and Omunkete Fishing vs Crown, NZ High Court 2008).

In 2008 New Zealand sighted the IUU vessel Triton-1 during a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Orion patrol in January (2008). The vessel was never arrested or intercepted.

Since 2007 there has been a recognition by CCAMLR that IUU vessels have moved to using gill nets rather than more traditional longlines. That has added impact on the environment and is prohibited method by CCAMLR. At this year’s meeting of SC-CCAMLR agreed it was highly uncertain what the catches were due to the use of gill nets and “gill net catches are likely to be much greater” than estimated (para 7.4, SC-CCAMLR 2009).

Patrolling the entire CCAMLR area is a monumental task and it's rare that a patrol happens to intercept an illegally fishing vessel. Add to that tolerance of known lawbreakers and you've got a serious problem that no one really has the resources or will to solve. It's great that this one ship was caught, but who knows if it will be much of a deterrent? What really needs to happen is that national governments get serious about enforcing laws and stop looking the other way. It seems that for some governments it's less embarrassing to allow IUU vessels to operate than it is to take action and thus admit that some of their citizens are breaking the law. Ridiculous. Anyone who has surveyed the world of illegal fishing knows that it's as complicated to prosecute and contain as organized crime - there's no dishonor in admitting you've had trouble eliminating it. It is far more shameful to allow international resources to be plundered than to admit that you've given fishing licenses to some less-than-savory characters. Containing illegal fishing, particularly in areas outside of national jurisdiction like the Southern Ocean, requires a consistent and good-faith effort by all governments.

Therefore, while I'm always glad to see an illegal vessel stopped, I'd rather see headlines about how governments have finally started enforcing laws.

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