Scaling the heights to reveal how fish pirates are plundering the depths

Press release - 1 November, 2002

Greenpeace climbers scale the Totem Pole in Tasmania, Australia to highlight attention to the pirate fishing trade during this week's CITES meeting.

Greenpeace climbers today scaled one of the most difficult vertical climbs in Australia, Tasmania's Totem Pole, to draw attention to the pirate fishing trade plundering oceans around Antarctica. The totem pole is a 65 meter natural dolerite formation overlooking the Southern Ocean.

Greenpeace wants the world's nations to close lucrative markets to pirate fishers by listing toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) on a convention to control its global trade. The Australian government is leading the world in nominating toothfish for listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The listing will be voted on at next week's CITES meeting in Chile.

Norway, with support from a number of countries is aggressively opposing the nomination.

This is despite new scientific estimates that toothfish fisheries will collapse by 2010-2012 if pirate poaching continues at its current rate. Many of the Indian Ocean fisheries most heavily targeted by pirate fishers, like Australia's Heard Island and France's Kerguelen Island toothfisheries, are in desperate straits. Fish worth $US200 million wholesale has been stolen in the past two and a half years from under the noses of the body charged with conserving toothfish stocks.

"Nations serious about eliminating pirate fishing will support a CITES listing for toothfish as one of the best chances this threatened sub-Antarctic fish has got," says Greenpeace oceans campaigner Sarah Duthie. "Pirate fishers always manage to stay one step ahead of attempts to monitor them. As long as they can trade their

catches for big dollars they won't stop."

Activists hung a banner reading "Pirate fishing trades away ocean life" from the Totem Pole. "While this climb may look dangerous, our climbers are perfectly safe, unlike toothfish and seabird populations which are in serious danger from pirate fishing," Duthie says.

Toothfish trades as Chilean Seabass (USA and Canada), Bacalao de profundidad (Chile), Légine Austral (France, Mauritius), Butterfish (Mauritius), Merluza negra (Argentina), Mero (Japan), Merluza negra, robalo (Spain) and Antarctic/Australian sea bass or Antarctic icefish (UK).

"Greenpeace is disappointed that the body responsible for the conservation of toothfish populations, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), is too narrow-minded to see the benefits of a CITES listing for toothfish populations. Rather than live up to its conservation responsibility and recognise how a CITES listing would help to control pirate toothfish trade, some

CCAMLR states have chosen instead to sabotage the nomination. A CITES listing for toothfish would complement, strengthen and reinforce CCAMLR's rules," Duthie says.

CITES will include countries that don't belong to CCAMLR, but are known to trade in pirate-caught toothfish. Approximately 57 countries are involved in the toothfish trade. CCAMLR has 24 members, but all countries known to be involved in the toothfish trade are CITES members. The 21st meeting of CCAMLR winds up in

Hobart today.

A successful listing on CITES Appendix II* could close off trade routes through countries not members of CCAMLR. It would also cut off laundering schemes devised by the fish pirates since CCAMLR began to take steps to tighten control of toothfish trade.

"A CITES listing would add to CCAMLR's efforts to stop pirate fishing and is the only way to control countries involved in the toothfish trade which are not CCAMLR members like Canada and Indonesia," Duthie says. "CITES only meets every two years - if the nomination is not successful this year the next meeting could be too late for many of the toothfish fisheries."

VVPR info: Images available from John Novis in Amsterdam on +31 20 524 9580 or mobile +31 (0) 6538 19121 and Olivia Bradley in Sydney on +61 2 92630350 or mobile +61 (0) 438 422 572

Notes: * The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) offers important regulatory protection as it is the foremost international treaty with competency for managing international trade in species under pressure. 160 countries will participate in the CITES meeting opening in Santiago, Chile next Sunday, 3 November 2002. * Toothfish grows up to two meters in length, lives for 50 years if given the chance and does not breed until at least 10 years old. Living in deep waters (from 300 to 2,500 meters), it is found on seamounts and continental shelves in the Southern Ocean around most sub-Antarctic islands and South America. * CITES Appendix II lists species not necessarily currently threatened with extinction, but which may become so unless trade is subject to strict regulation. Commercial trade of these species is allowed on condition that specimens are legally obtained and the trade is not detrimental to the wild population. * New CCAMLR figures reveal pirate fishing continues to rise. In the past two and a half years vessels from CCAMLR members Russia, Uruguay and the republic of Korea have stolen 13,799 tonnes of toothfish from CCAMLR waters, claiming that they caught their fish elsewhere. Non-member the Seychelles has taken 7,433 tonnes. The total value of the pirate catch by vessels from these countries during that time is estimated at $US200 million wholesale.* Up to 93,000 Southern Ocean seabirds-including endangered species of albatross-have been caught and drowned as bycatch by pirate fishers in just the past year. Many seabird species are declining at rates so high that extinction is entirely possible. * Toothfish populations across the Southern Ocean have been severely overfished since the early 1990s in a decade- long "gold rush" of pirate fishing, primarily by vessels flying flags of convenience. * An analysis of the trade in toothfish products during the year 2000 estimates that the pirate catch represented over 80% of the total CCAMLR-reported catch. The truth could be much worse.