The New Zealand Defence Force early in Janurary surprised a third unlicensed fishing boat, far south-east of Tasmania, illegally poaching toothfish - the ocean's "white gold". The New Zealand government so far has intercepted three ships with their offshore patrol ship, HMNZS Wellington, in cooperation with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
(image: head of Patagonian Toothfish)
This summer is Sea Shepherd’s 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign and the first to target toothfish fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica. Patagonian toothfish, a species of cod icefish, can grow up to 10 kilograms in weight and are a highly prized eating fish.
Three ships using illegal gillnets to catch prized toothfish were operating in a protected fishery research area about 2500 kilometres from Hobart, according to details released by Interpol.
The illegal fishing boats, believed to be carrying a catch worth $8 million on the black market in South-East Asia, are all flying flags of convenience to avoid prosecution. Fishing in the Southern Ocean is regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
Thanks to the New Zealand Navy operating in waters south of Australia, they were able to disclose the presence of three criminal ships using illegal gillnets to catch prized toothfish, operating in a protected fishery research area about 2500 kilometres from Hobart.
In contrast, the ship tasked with Southern Ocean patrols for Australia, Ocean Shield, was at found to be at anchor off Christmas Island. Our government promised that the vessel would be employed on two 40-day patrols of the Southern Ocean. We have criminals in our marine "backyard", but the Australian ocean patrol vessel, Ocean Shield, is on AWOL!
The duty of patrolling the Southern Ocean has been silently abrogated to our neighbouring New Zealand, and a not-for-profit organisation.
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, said the government remained committed to the protection of Australia's sovereign territories and interests in the Southern Ocean, but their priorities were elsewhere!
This broken promise by an Australian government in neglecting the security of our oceans is alarming, disappointing but not surprising.
Our Australian government has for years ignored Japan's thinly disguised "research whaling", and by procrastination and hollow protests, have allowed the killing to go on relentlessly, without redress. Similar to years of failure of our Australian governments to monitor and halt illegal whaling, this government is failing to control the illegal poaching of prized toothfish!
If poacher are fishing from a boat that is not signed up to the CCAMLR agreement then the illegal fishing boat is simply fishing on the high seas and prosecution is almost impossible. The only way to prosecute a boat for illegal fishing is to prove that its owner is from a country signed up to CCAMLR.
Gillnets pose many threats, and they are more effective and deadly than longlines. The level of incidental bycatch is greater, and lost or abandoned gillnets have the potential to continue killing marine life through ‘ghost fishing’.
At least the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will continue to hunt down the illegal vessels.
(image: Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon berthed in Wellington)
Successful poachers are making mockery of Australian law, and our so-called national security. It appears that Minister for Customs and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has gone to sleep at the wheel, or has abrogated his duties to a successful, vigilant and a service at no cost to the taxpayers from a not-for-profit organisation?