Environmental Policy News

New Zealand Initiates Action Against Illegal Fishing

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a serious global problem that contributes to overfishing, creates unfair competition and impedes sustainable fisheries. IUU fishing respects neither national boundaries nor international attempts to manage fishing on the high seas. Recent sightings of IUU vessels in the Southern Ocean by New Zealand have focused international attention on the challenge of curbing this practice.

“Although there are no recent estimates of the total catch taken by IUU operators from global fisheries, or the total cost to those fisheries, a 2003 estimate put the value of IUU fishing at between US$10 and US$23 billion annually,” says Andrew Wright, Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) based in Hobart, Australia. Mr Wright believes this may represent up to 25 million tons of fish and that there is an urgent need to update this estimate to underscore the magnitude of the problem today.

The majority of IUU catch is taken in contravention of regulatory measures that have been put in place, either by individual nations or through multilateral arrangements, to secure the sustainability of fisheries resources. Mr Wright noted that critical information required by fisheries scientists to assess the status of fish stocks is not provided by IUU operators and assessments of the health of world fish stocks are based on guesstimates about the IUU fishing impact on those stocks. In addition, IUU operators do not adhere to catch limits put in place by fisheries managers to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks. As well as threatening the health of fish stocks across the globe, those engaged in IUU fishing make no effort to minimize the broader impacts of their fishing operations on the ecosystem, particularly in relation to vulnerable or threatened species, such as seabirds.

The regular surveillance patrols undertaken by New Zealand in the Southern Ocean every year during the toothfish fishing season help secure the sustainability of Antarctic fisheries managed by the 25 Member-nation Commission. Although often supplemented by aerial patrols, this year’s efforts have been led by the HMNZS Wellington, a modern off-shore patrol vessel.

In January 2015, the Wellington encountered three vessels, the Songhua, the Yongding and the Kunlun, that have been on CCAMLR’s IUU Vessel List for many years, blatantly fishing for toothfish deep in the southern Indian Ocean close to the Antarctic continent. These vessels report that they are flagged to Equatorial Guinea which is not a Member of CCAMLR and is not a Party to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, an international legal instrument that encourages cooperation among States to promote responsible fisheries management practices.

These vessels use bottom gillnets up to 25 km in length, which have been banned by CCAMLR since 2006. In late 2014 the Australian Government observed the vessels, at that stage flagged to Indonesia, traveling to the Southern Ocean. Despite numerous formal approaches to the vessels themselves, and to Equatorial Guinea, the vessels continue to fish, even in the presence of the Wellington. New Zealand requested Interpol to issue a Purple Notice with respect to the vessels. Another IUU vessel, the Thunder, which is currently being shadowed by the Sea Shepherd vessel the Bob Barker, has also been active in the CAMLR Convention Area this fishing season and is already the subject of an INTERPOL Purple Notice.

For more information, visit www.ccamlr.org/en/news/2015/new-zealand-initiates-action-against-iuu-vessels-southern-ocean.

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