Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) initiated measures
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is a conservation commission established in 1982 under the CAMLR Convention. The Commission, which is made up of 25 Members (24 countries and the European Union), controls fishing in the Southern Ocean within the CCAMLR area. Only vessels that are flagged under Members States are permitted to fish in the CCAMLR area and licensed vessels must abide by catch limits and other conservation measures designed to protect seabirds, marine mammals, fish bycatch and benthic habitats. In addition to the 25 Members, a further 11 countries have agreed to support the Convention.
CCAMLR produces a "List of Vessels Presumed to Have Conducted Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing", also referred to as the "IUU" list. CCAMLR’s position on IUU fishing for toothfish is that:
There remains considerable uncertainty about the extent of IUU fishing in the Convention Area. Information suggests that up to seven IUU vessels remain active in the Convention Area. There is some evidence to suggest that these vessels are supported by a reefer vessel and cooperate with each other. Ongoing concerns relating to IUU fishing include the absence of verifiable information on fishing operations, the lack of detailed information concerning removals by IUU vessels and the CCAMLR Members continue to work actively to eliminate IUU fishing from the Convention Area.
CCAMLR has introduced programs that have had a considerable effect on mitigating IUU fishing, but unfortunately the problem of IUU fishing continues. Two of the Commission’s most successful regulations have been the introduction of a catch documentation scheme and satellite vessel monitoring systems.
Catch Documentation Scheme
The Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS) is a certification system designed to track the trade in toothfish. Although the CDS has reduced IUU fishing, some operators exploit the system by introducing illegally caught fish into what is now perceived as a highly-regulated market.
It is believed that in some cases poachers launder their illegal catch through the use of the CDS, resulting in discrepancies between total catch landings of toothfish and the number of toothfish traded. Because it is virtually impossible to track all of the fish listed on a particular catch document, fish can easily be co-mingled with other shipments so that illegally caught toothfish are mixed with properly documented toothfish catches. For example, if a 50-ton catch has correct documentation, then the operator can remove any damaged product and replace it with the best-priced fish from an illegal catch. The damaged fish is then sold on to Asian markets where the CDS is less rigidly adhered to while the certified catch, contaminated with illegal fish, is sold to the United States, the European Union and Japan.
Vessel Monitoring Systems
In 2001, CCAMLR implemented a mandatory Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) for all toothfish operators. In order to comply with the CDS, vessels must be equipped with a satellite-linked automated VMS that tracks vessel movements from port-to-port to ensure compliance with set quotas and boundaries. VMS data is exported to a centralized CCAMLR system.
Although the CAMLR Convention area covers around 70% of toothfish populations, with another 25% being caught in national waters outside of the CCAMLR region by CCAMLR members (notably Argentina and Chile), toothfish caught from the high seas outside of the CCAMLR area are not subject to any specific conservation or management measures. It is believed that fish caught within the CCAMLR region is sometimes mislabeled as having been caught from high seas areas outside of CCAMLR.
These shortfalls should not detract from what have been largely successful conservation measures that have greatly reduced IUU fishing in the CCAMLR region. However, it must also be acknowledged that current conservation instruments are not foolproof, and the illegal toothfish operators that remain are experts at finding and abusing the regulatory gaps.
International Law Enforcement Measures
CCAMLR signatory countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Norway, have been working over the last two years to strengthen international law enforcement coordination to allow for better and quicker information sharing in aiding the efforts to tackle IUU fishing in Antarctica. The most significant change has been the involvement of Interpol’s Project Scale team. This involvement has allowed for the issuance of Purple Notices against errant vessels and the formation of a centralized intelligence and information collection centre, meaning that Interpol’s 190 member countries now have a two-way communication to receive and share information.
Why Are These Measures Not Enough?
Illegal toothfish operators exploit a number of loopholes that hinder law enforcement efforts. Poachers constantly rename and reflag vessels by using and switching between shell holding companies and flags of convenience. They flag under actors that are not contracting parties to CCAMLR such as North Korea or Tanzania, making it difficult to seek penalties for infractions. Most importantly, illegal toothfish operators exploit the vast remoteness of the Southern Ocean to evade detection, taking advantage of the high costs associated with effective surveillance in the region.
In the late 1990s around one-half of the catch in the CCAMLR area was from IUU fishing. However, due to a combination of increased surveillance and patrolling, together with the revised CDS and VMS measures, CCAMLR estimates that current IUU fishing represents 5% of estimated landings. In reality, the catch could be twice that amount due to the difficulty of monitoring landings.
While IUU fishing is believed to be largely mitigated in areas that were formerly heavily-exploited, such as Heard and Macdonald Island, it continues to take place in what Sea Shepherd calls the "shadowlands" of the Southern Ocean; areas outside of national jurisdiction and waters with limited legitimate vessel traffic.
There remains considerable uncertainty about the extent of IUU fishing in the CCAMLR area, but what is certain is that, in spite of the involvement of the Interpol, two vessels, the Viking and Kunlun, have managed to evade port authorities and are currently missing. These vessels are difficult, if not impossible to target through traditional law enforcement avenues due to cost and location of their illegal activity.