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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

05 June 2002

Australia Seeks More Protection for Toothfish

Australia will seek further protection for two fish species in remote Antarctic waters from illegal fishing which is threatening to collapse their numbers within as little as three years and destroy an environmentally responsible Australian fishery.

Environment and Heritage Minister Dr David Kemp announced the move today.

Dr Kemp said Australia would nominate the Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish for inclusion on Schedule II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at Santiago, Chile, in November.

If the nomination is successful, 159 countries worldwide will impose strict trade regulation on toothfish cargoes entering their ports, demanding certification that the catch is legal.

The new trade constraints would complement Australia's strong support and involvement in existing trade and policing measures developed through the 24 member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Dr Kemp said that despite the tough conditions in sub-Antarctic waters both species of toothfish were subject to "gold rush" scale illegal fishing that threatened the viability of the legal fishery in three to five years.

He said illegal fishers may be taking as much as four times the legal catch.

The two species have only been targeted commercially since the 1990's after being "discovered" in the 1980's.

Prime fish bring up to $100 per kilogram in Japan, for sashimi, and up to $40 per kilogram in other major markets, which include the United States and Europe.

The move to increase efforts to halt the illegal decimation of stocks through CITES has the support of environmental groups and the West Australian based fishing fleet.

Dr Kemp said the threat from illegal long-line fishing, which was also having a devastating impact on Albatross and Petrel numbers, was a tragedy for sustainability given Australia's efforts to establish a responsible fishery in our 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone around Heard and McDonald Islands, deep in the Southern Ocean. The World Heritage listed islands are 4000 kilometres south-west, and six days steaming, from Perth.

A management plan for the fishery, which has been in development since 1997, was approved last month.

Australian Fish Management Authority inspectors are on board every Australian ship, ensuring operators meet strict requirements including monitoring of the trawl based fishery, which avoids interfering with sea-birds, a no-waste-overboard constraint to avoid interaction with seals and seabirds, and deliberate targeting on non-breeding stocks to preserve the resource.

"Australia, and Australian fishers, have developed a state-of-the-art, sustainable fishery based on these highly valuable stocks and it is very sad to see this sound commercial, and regulatory effort being undermined by irresponsible and illegal fishing," Dr Kemp said.

"It is my hope that even though the effort by Australia to nominate the species under CITES may well be unsuccessful to begin with, the domestic and international debate it will foster will raise awareness of the issues at stake here."

Dr Kemp said the move should not be seen as a rejection of the efforts of CCAMLR in favor of an alignment with CITES.

"At this late hour, the toothfish, and our fishers, need all the support they can get," Dr Kemp said.

"CCAMLR is making a tremendous effort to engage the issue of illegal fishing, among its many other major efforts on sustaining the Antarctic. Australia totally supports that effort, is actively engaged in it, and is deeply thankful for it.

"But it is my view that what is at stake here is important enough to warrant the use of every available tool. A CITES listing is another string to the bow, another part of the effort.

"A cooperative effort to police toothfish waters, and engage illegal fishers on the high seas are other, substantive, issues that are currently receiving high level attention in Australia, and among other responsible fishing nations.

"In the meantime, a bid to have these two toothfish species attached to a CITES schedule will send a very clear signal that Australia is prepared to go to bat for both the commercial sustainability of our fishery and responsible environmental conduct."

Dr Kemp said Australia would begin lobbying CCAMLR and CITES states immediately.

He called on environmental organisations to help the Commonwealth maximise the impact of the move on world opinion.

Media contact:
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

Commonwealth of Australia