Each year as they swim the deep blue waters off the South
American andSubantarctic continental shelves they are met by a
massive attack frompirate fishers. More than half of toothfish are
illegally caught. Forfish that don't breed till they are about ten
years old, this severeoverexploitation is devastating for the
Toothfish can live to be 50 years old, but their chances of
reachingthis ripe old age are growing slimmer. Once their
ratherferocious-looking heads are removed and their bodies cleaned
andde-scaled, the moist, oily white flesh of Patagonian and
Antarctictoothfish becomes a delicacy that can fetch more than
US$10/kg amongthe trendy dining crowd.
But before plunging their forks in, fish-lovers might want to
knowtheir meal is actually the victim of a massive international
andillegal resource grab by pirate fishers. Experts say that if
thisplunder goes unchecked, stocks of Patagonian toothfish, also
known asChilean Sea Bass, will collapse by 2010 to 2012.
What's our name today?
To understand this exploitation is to glimpse into the shady,
shiftingworld of pirate fishers, where vessels' names and
nationalities changewith the seasons - or even the days. One
Greenpeace survey thatincluded 34 vessels found ten flag of
convenience (FOC) vessels, twowith no name at all, three vessels
with two names, two with the samename, 27 which displayed no
country or port or registry, and nine whichhad been sighted
previously engaged in illegal operations.
With a fishery so openly and blatantly violated, finding
legitimate fishers is actually the more difficult task.
Right now Uruguay, Russia, Korea and Seychelles are the
ultimateaccomplices of these fish pirates. Vessels carrying these
countries'flags are fishing illegally within CCAMLR waters
(governed by theCommission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine
Living Resources)and are then laundering their catch through the
CCAMLR trade rules bylying about where they caught their fish. By
authorising catches forthese vessels, these countries are
undermining CCAMLR's management andsupporting pirate fishing.
Belize - still open for business
Belizewas the world's most
fish pirate friendly country and the biggestpirate player in the
toothfish fishery for a number of years.
As of December 2001, the nation had in its registry an
outrageouslylarge fleet for a tiny nation - 481 fishing vessels -
slightly biggerthan that of China. In a global survey of vessels
caught illegallyfishing, 50 percent were FOC, and 36 percent
carried the flag ofBelize. Cambodia, Bolivia and Equatorial Guinea
are other FOC countriesthat have increased their fleets since 1999.
Greenpeace has chased twopirate fishing vessels with the Belize
flag out of the Southern ocean.
Last year, Belize announced it was getting out of the dirty flag
ofconvenience fishing business, ditching five notorious fishing
piratesfrom its shipping register, buckling under pressure from
Greenpeace andgovernments. However, only two weeks ago another
Belize-flagged pirate,Noemi, turned up in Mozambique to offload
toothfish. So much forgetting out of the business.
Measures have been taken to control the illegal goldrush on
Patagonianand Antarctic toothfish. Yet illegal, unreported and
unregulatedfishing rose by at least 30 percent in 2001 according to
CCAMLR, theregional body responsible for toothfish
One major problem is that many nations fishing, trading
andimporting toothfish are not members of the CCAMLR club, and so
considerthemselves exempt from its rules. CCAMLR has 24 members,
but there are57 nations in some way involved in the toothfish
A wake up call for the CCAMLR club
But it is not just those countries outside the conservation
commissionthat flaunt the rules. Some CCAMLR members are also
involved in theillegal toothfishery. Vessels of three members and
of observerSeychelles are lying about where they catch
In the past two and a half years vessels from Russia, Uruguay
andKorea have stolen 13,799 tonnes, (US$150 million) of toothfish
fromCCAMLR waters, in addition to their legal catches. Vessels from
theSeychelles took 7,433 tonnes (US$72 million) during that
In fact, by laundering their catches through CCAMLR's
catchdocumentation scheme, pirates can demand higher prices for the
Since May 2000, vessels from these countries have plundered
CCAMLRsub-Antarctic waters for over $200 million. We believe much
of thecatch was taken from Australian, French and South African
This is a more lucrative scam than drug trafficking, and the
toothfish and seabird populations pay the penalty.
There'sa sorry subplot to
the toothfish story. As fish pirates empty the seas,they also empty
the skies. When fishing vessels run up to 20,000 baitedhooks off
their sterns, sea birds swoop in to grab the bait but mayalso
swallow the hooks and be pulled under water and drowned. As manyas
93,000 seabirds were caught and drowned on the lines of
illegal,unreported and unregulated fishers' longlines during the
This includes endangered species of albatross, the world's
largestseabirds. These great ocean wanderers have a wingspan of up
to 3.5metres and live up to 85 years, mating for life. Some, such
as theAmsterdam albatross which numbers only 10 to 16 pairs, are
declining sorapidly they are on the brink of extinction.
Mending holes in the regulatory net
One important solution could make use of a United Nations treaty
thatregulates international trade in plant and animals products,
theConvention on International Trade in Endangered Species
A major loophole could be closed by listing toothfish under
CITESAppendix II. This could effectively close off trade routes
throughcountries which are not members of CCAMLR by extending its
rules tothese countries through CITES. It would also cut off
laundering schemesdevised by the fish pirates since CCAMLR began to
take steps to tightenthe toothfish trade.
This puts lucrative markets driving the gold rush toothfish
fishery out of the pirates' reach.
Pirate Fishing, Plundering the Oceans pdf report, 1.1MB