How seafood markets can help save Antarctica’s Ross Sea

by Alexis Sadoti

August 5, 2010

This post comes from our friends at Greenpeace International

Let your imagination take you to the Antarctic: a cold, windy and inhospitable region inhabited by some of our planet’s most unique and spectacular living creatures.

The Antarctic region’s Southern Ocean is one of the most pristine marine environments on Earth. This last wilderness could soon become only a memory if the fishing industry has its way. It’s not too late, though – today, Greenpeace is renewing its call to retailers to play a part in saving our oceans, by not sourcing Ross Sea toothfish.

While very remote, the ocean wilderness of the Southern Ocean is under threat from industrial fishing fleets. Having already plundered too many fish from other oceans, vessels are now heading for the Southern Ocean’s icy Ross Sea, where toothfish have thrived miles away from the nets and trawlers. Increasingly, fishing vessels head to Antarctica and put our last remaining largely pristine oceans at risk to satisfy foreign demand for toothfish and seabass.

Greenpeace / Daniel Beltr

The Antarctic is under threat

The Antarctic is our planet’s last remaining wilderness. Even though the Ross Sea is thousands of kilometres from human life, it still feels the impacts of humankind. This wild area is being threatened by climate change, ocean acidification, reckless and unnecessary whaling and now, industrial fishing. By ensuring that Antarctica remains a place of peace and science (which is what the Antarctic Treaty established), and by protecting the waters surrounding this continent, we can take steps towards creating healthy oceans for future generations.

The Ross Sea The last frontier

The Ross Sea, a deep bay of the Southern Ocean, has remained relatively untouched, but a fishing industry hungry for profits has for years taken advantage of the sea’s remoteness by fishing perhaps forever altering these wild waters.

Fishing in the Ross Sea began in 1998, when vessels from New Zealand headed to the area, and it has since become a fishing ground for longline vessels in search of Antarctic toothfish. Twelve countries have legally sent vessels to this exploratory’ fishery since 2000. In 2010 alone, 18 vessels from seven countries were catching toothfish in this largely untouched ocean wilderness.

Legal fishing is only one part of the problem: illegal vessels not operating under any regulations use destructive fishing techniques like longlining or deep-water gillnets to catch toothfish, often resulting in accidental bycatch of other species like albatrosses and petrels.

The Antarctic toothfish needs urgent protection

The Antarctic toothfish is an important part of the Ross Sea ecosystem, so any changes to the toothfish population can impact the larger ecosystem. We may never fully understand the long-term impacts of fishing in the Ross Sea, but we do already know that killer whale populations, which feed on toothfish, are in decline – due to overfishing.

Toothfish is an expensive and unusual delicacy that tends to be sold only in high-end, exclusive seafood restaurants, as well as speciality seafood shops and seafood markets. It is uncommon on European plates, but in the United States many supermarket chains sell it.

Fortunately, retailers around the world are joining the growing sustainable seafood movement and are implementing polices to source sustainable seafood, and toothfish is now disappearing from many supermarket shelves. Famous chefs like Hosea Rosenberg and Kin Lui refuse to serve it in their restaurants and supermarket chains like Waitrose, Loblaw, Safeway and Overwaitea have either removed it from their shelves, or committed to not buy it.

A Call to action to protect the Ross Sea and toothfish

To protect the Ross Sea, Greenpeace is calling on seafood buyers, restaurant owners and chefs to not buy any toothfish and to support efforts to keep the Ross Sea off limits to fishing and industrial activity, by making it a marine reserve.

Also, public support is key to put pressure on politicians and to ensure that the Ross Sea is designated as a marine reserve now. Please support the Greenpeace campaign for a global network of marine reserves to cover 40% of the world’s oceans, including the Ross Sea, to keep our oceans alive. You can also make a public commitment not to buy, sell or serve any toothfish, certified or otherwise, by publishing it on your website with a link to this page.

Read our report “Defending the last Ocean: How Seafood Markets Can Help Save Antarctica’s Ross Sea”

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