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A drawing of a Patagonian Toothfish - Dissostichus eleginoides.
Illustration: Bruce Mahalski

March 26, 2002
Patagonian Toothfish
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

Genevieve Johnson:

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in the Southern Ocean, the home of the Patagonian Toothfish.

Large scale fishing for Patagonian Toothfish, also known in the United States as Chilean Sea Bass, began in the early 1990's following the decline in fish stocks in many northern hemisphere fisheries. By the mid - 90's Patagonian Toothfish was a highly prized catch, branded 'white gold' by industrial long range fishing fleets. The high market value and decline of worldwide stocks, together with the remoteness of the fishing grounds and lack of surveillance has provided ideal circumstances for illegal fishing.

Recently two Russian flagged ships, the Lena and Volga were caught fishing illegally near Heard Island last month with a combined catch of Patagonian Toothfish weighing 200 tonnes, estimated to be worth $2.5 million. We saw the ships being towed into port by the Navy and were curious to learn more about the illegal trade in this apparently lucrative fishery.

Today we spoke with Glenn Sant, Director of TRAFFIC Oceania;

Glenn Sant:

I am Glenn Sant and I am the director of TRAFFIC OCEANIA. We are an environmental, non-government organization with responsibility for the South Pacific, Australian and New Zealand. We're part of a broader network of TRAFFIC offices. There are twenty-two offices around the world and we specialize in looking at trade in wildlife products - that includes plants and animals. One of the things that we look at in our scope of work is trade statistics especially when you look back at the effect it has on wild populations of animals and plants, you get a very good idea of how much is being harvested. The Patagonian Toothfish is a fish that grows up to three meters long. It's a long-lived fish over fifty years old. As far as sustainability when you look at fish species, it doesn't produce many offspring so it is much more susceptible to over-exploitation.

The "Lena" - one of the two Russian boats recently seized for suspected illegally fishing for Patagonian Toothfish.
Photo: Ann McMann

Now this fish is also very special because it occurs around the sub-Antarctic area and most of the adults you'd find down to 3000 meters below the sea - or 3 kilometers.

There are by-catch problems with what is primarily a long-line fishery, so the managing organization of the Patagonian Toothfish fishery is (CCMLAR) Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Most of that fishery is a long-line fishery with a by-catch of seabirds. What happens is that when you are streaming out a long-line with hooks and bait on it, seabirds are attracted to that, caught and drowned. If you're trying to manage a fishery, you are trying to reduce those impacts and what is significant with this fishery is that what we estimate about half of the global fishery is illegal, unreported, or un-regulated. What that means is that you not only have an impact on the target species, in this case Patagonian Toothfish, but also bycatch species such as seabirds. There are some species such as the Wandering Albatross that is particularly susceptible to exploitation and is at incredibly low numbers as it is now.

The Patagonian Toothfishery is a 'gold mine' fishery, it is a premium product, especially on the U.S. and Japanese market where it is sold for up to $30 U.S. per kilo, it is not a cheap product. When you can realize a lot of money from what may only be a few weeks of fishing, then the fishery becomes extremely attractive. The other implications are that it's so far south, it's very hard to enforce CCAMLR measures on boats. So, if you want to do the wrong thing, as a pirate or an illegal fishing vessel, it's very easy to go down there and take as much as you want. That said though, CCAMLR has introduced only in the last 12 months, a catch documentation scheme. It is hoped that this will reduce the amount of illegal catch that is being landed in ports by identifying where these fish are being caught and if they're not being caught under a legal framework, well then they don't allow them to be landed.

One of the things to consider with the Patagonian Toothfish under the CCAMLR commission and the conservation measures that are being introduced there, our opinion is that it has not been successful so far in limiting this illegal catch. Only last year, half of the global trade was illegally sourced.

The reality is with Patagonian Toothfish is that unless we do something quite quickly, and it's quite dramatic, we're in danger of loosing this population. The fishery has only been around for approximately ten years and we have already dramatically reduced it. If we do not act quickly we could see a permanent affect if not a major demise of the population.

What people can do, as any consumer should do with any wildlife product, is know about it. Find out about the fish that you are eating, ask at the fishmonger, "where is this fish coming from?". It's an aware public that can make sure that we do not loose species.

Genevieve Johnson:

With 12 countries now known to be fishing illegally, scientists hold grave concerns about the future of the Patagonian Toothfish, Its sustainability is at risk, largely due to the impact of (IUU) Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, which is completely undermining the effectiveness of conservation measures.

TRAFFIC has urged consideration of the use of CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to control the fishery. Meanwhile we can all help decrease the demand for threatened fish species by supporting and purchasing seafood only from sustainable fisheries.

Due to the fact that stock assessment is largely dependant on the level of reported catch in each area, knowledge of stocks in some areas remains limited as most catch is illegal and therefore goes unreported.
Map: Courtesy of TRAFFIC OCEANIA


Log by Genevieve Johnson

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