Since the turn of the century, the profits associated with the trade of toothfish have meant that the illegal vessels and their owners and operators have continuously adapted to the changes in international law to remain outside of their reach. The resilience shown by the illegal trading industry continues to pose a threat to the sensitive Antarctic marine ecosystem because it allows for the loopholes in international law to be used to conceal the real driving forces behind the vessels.
The last of the Illegal toothfish vessels are owned under shell companies and operate through a number of subsidiaries. Controlling interests being linked to a handful of Spanish-based fishing outfits. However, these vessel owners hide behind the maze of international regulations and use techniques such as:
- Flagging their ships to countries of non-compliance (FNC) and thereby operating as “unregulated vessels”.
- Using shell companies and off-shore banking accounts to conceal beneficial ownership.
- Employing the use of multiple identities to avoid being detected.
- Shifting their operations to the “high seas” of Antarctica and thereby remaining outside the reach of nationally applicable laws.
- Using ports in countries with limited applicability of national legal instruments to international fishing violations, such as in Africa and South East Asia.
Additionally, since 2007 most illegal toothfish vessels modified their operations to the use of gillnet fishing methods which are outlawed under CCAMLR regulations. Gillnets pose many threats. They are more effective than longlines, the level of incidental bycatch from gillnets is greater and lost or abandoned gillnets have the potential to continue to incur marine life mortality through "ghost fishing".
Find the destructive impact of gillnets here.
As well as expanding their fishing methods, poachers have shifted from traditional fishing areas to the high seas areas, where there was less chance of detection by legitimate toothfish operators and law enforcement agencies. France, for example, has reported that in conjunction with a decrease of suspicious vessel activity in France's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Isle Crozet, there has been an increase in vessel activity observed on the outer edges of the EEZ.