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Pressures on the Patagonian toothfish

Soviet fishing fleets discovered commercial quantities of Patagonian toothfish off the Kerguelen Islands in 1985 (CCAMLR 2002a). After the introduction of longlining in 1985/86 around South Georgia (Kock 2001), exploitation of larger, mature and older fish from areas inaccessible to trawlers began when Spanish operators discovered commercial toothfish stocks off southern Chile in the Pacific Ocean (Fallon and Kriwoken submitted). Harvesting increased rapidly during the early 1990s and the fishery expanded to the southwest Atlantic Ocean off Argentina and the Falklands in 1994 (AFMA 2001). Since 1996/97, longlining has continued to expand rapidly eastwards into the slope waters of previously unfished islands, banks and seamounts in the Indian and Pacific Ocean sectors of the Southern Ocean (CCAMLR 2002a; Agnew 2000). Since 1996/97, the Antarctic toothfish has also become the target of a number of new and exploratory fisheries.


Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing


Japanese scientific whale factory ship in Antarctic waters (Photo: © D. Flynn)
Trawling for Patagonian toothfish from the research vessel RSV Aurora Australia. (Photo: © C. Materia-Rowland)

The low fecundity of Patagonian toothfish, its long life span, late sexual maturity and preference for near land habitats, combine to make this species vulnerable to over-fishing (Williams 2001; Agnew 2000). In addition, given the quality of Patagonian toothfish and demand for white fleshed fish generally, market acceptance influenced by declining supply of other species has resulted in increasing pressure on these fisheries and the viability of supply being questioned (Fallon and Kriwoken (submitted); Dodds 2000). This pressure has arisen largely from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that undermines species management by governments and the CCAMLR Commission (Constable 2002; ASOC 2002; FAO 2001). Lack and Sant (2001:1) also attribute the proliferation of IUU fishing to "the remoteness of the main fishing grounds and the resultant difficulties and high costs associated with effective surveillance and the relatively low risk of being detected".


According to CCAMLR (2002b), the Patagonian toothfish shows signs of being overfished in many fishing zones within the CCAMLR Area, particularly around Marion, Prince Edward and Crozet islands, and the Ob and Lena Banks regions. In addition, it is under threat of being overfished in the EEZs around Kerguelen and Heard islands if IUU fishing is not controlled (Fallon and Kriwoken (submitted); CCAMLR 2002b). In January 2002, IUU vessels were sighted fishing in Antarctic waters south of 60ºS (Stone 2002). Refer to Fallon and Stratford 2003, Fallon and Kriwoken in press, CCAMLR 2002b and Lack and Sant 2001 for details on the nations identified as being, or having been involved in IUU fishing for Patagonian toothfish or the landing of IUU catches.


Although debate exists about the accuracy of different estimates of IUU fishing, it is agreed by the CCAMLR Commission, national governments, fishers and non-government organisations (NGOs) that illegal fishing continues to undermine the biological sustainability of Patagonian toothfish. Kock (2001) identifies that the problem of IUU fishing is fourfold where:


  • catches do not provide fisheries data to perform biological and economic assessments in order to adopt sustainable harvest levels;
  • IUU fishing leads to excessive catches and disregards any fishery restrictions in terms of catch levels or bycatch limits;
  • dependant or associated species, such as albatrosses and petrels are adversely affected; and
  • opportunities and income for legal fishers are removed and incentives for these fishers to invest in adequate monitoring, surveillance and control are undermined.


In 1997 catch landings peaked, with Dodds (2000) and Perry (1998) estimating that catches were in excess of 100 000 t and valued at more than $AUD500 million with Japan, the US and increasingly Asia being the largest consumers. According to CCAMLR (2002a), in the 1996/97 season, estimated catches from unregulated and illegal fishing exceeded those from regulated fishing by a factor of five or more. Other estimates put IUU fishing in the late 1990s at three times the legal quota (Lack and Sant 2001).



Figure 2: Catch outside the CCAMLR Area includes estimated EEZ catch + estimated high seas catch. Source: Fallon (work in progress): Adapted from CCAMLR 2002b; 2002c; Lack and Sant 2001; Agnew 2000 (* Note, estimated data only that provides a general indication of Dissostichus spp. catches.)


In the 2001/02 season the estimated unreported catch of Patagonian toothfish in the CCAMLR Area was 10 898 t or 46 per cent of the total catch, as compared with 8 802 t in the 2000/01 season or 39 per cent of the total catch (WG-IMAG 2002) (Figure 2). When the 25 054 t of Patagonian toothfish reported as caught outside the CCAMLR Area are included in the catch, the total global harvest in the 2001/02 season is estimated at 48 769 t, in contrast to 56 445 t during the 2000/01 season (WG-IMAG 2002).





AFMA (2001). Commonwealth fisheries: Heard Island and McDonald Islands fishery. Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Canberra, Australia, Accessed 10 July 2002.


Agnew, D.J. (2000). The illegal and unregulated fishery for toothfish in the Southern Ocean, and the CCAMLR catch documentation scheme. Marine Policy, 24, 361-374.


ASOC (2002). Pirate fishing: Out of control. Eco, ATCM XXV, No 3, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Hobart, Australia.


CCAMLR (2002a). Understanding CCAMLR’s approach to management. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Hobart, Australia, Accessed 26 November 2002.


CCAMLR (2002b). Report of the twenty-first meeting of the Commission. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Hobart, Australia.


CCAMLR (2002c). CCAMLR statistical bulletin: Volume 14. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Hobart, Australia.


Constable, A.J. (2002). The status of Antarctic fisheries research. In Jabour-Green, J. and Haward, M. (eds), The Antarctic: Past, present and future, Antarctic CRC Research Report No 28, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, 71-84.


Dodds, K. (2000). Geopolitics, Patagonian toothfish and living resource regulation in the Southern Ocean. Third World Quarterly, 21(2), 229-246, Accessed 1 August 2002.


Fallon, L.D. (work in progress). The role of state and non-state actors in the management of Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.


Fallon, L.D. and Kriwoken, L.K. (submitted). International influence of an Australian non-governmental organisation in the protection of Patagonian toothfish. University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.


Fallon, L.D. and Stratford, E. (2003). Issues of sustainability in the Southern Ocean fisheries: The case of the Patagonian toothfish. Report for the Lighthouse Foundation, School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.


FAO (2001a). International plan of action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Rome, Italy, Accessed 11 April 2002.


Kock, K-H. (2001). The direct influence of fishing and fishery-related activities on non-target species in the Southern Ocean with particular emphasis on longline fishing and its impact on albatrosses and petrels: A review. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 11, 31-56.


Lack, M. and Sant, G. (2001). Patagonian toothfish: Are conservation and trade measures working? TRAFFIC Bulletin 19(1), 1-19.


Perry, M. (1998). Australia rallies against Antarctic ‘fish pirates’. Reuters Limited, Accessed 7 October 2002.


Stone, S. (2002). Major blow to illegal fishers. Media Release 11 June 2002, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, Australia.


WG-IMAG (2002). Incidental mortality of seabirds during unregulated longline fishing in the Convention Area: Working Group on Incidental Mortality Arising from Fishing. In the report of the Twenty-first meeting of the Commission. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Hobart, Australia.


Williams, R. (2001). About Patagonian toothfish. Australian Antarctic Magazine, Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), Hobart, Australia

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