By Rowena Dela Rosa Yoon
Marine conservation group, the Sea Shepherd, is gearing up for another Southern Ocean expedition in time for an Antarctic summer.
The group suspects the Japanese will not return to kill whales this hunting season, but if they do, they will drive them back to Japan. The International Court of Justice declared in March this year Japanese whaling in the area is illegal.
Sea Shepherd is launching their next mission called Operation Icefish to catch poachers of Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish.
The group said toothfish poaching is another threat in the area that has had a devastating effect on the icefish population. They warn that anyone caught fishing illegally will have their nets seized and they will work with authorities to confiscate illegal boats.
The Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, arrived in Auckland’s harbour yesterday after a voyage from Melbourne. The ship, carrying 25 crew from around the globe, arrived in New Zealand to source supplies and to prepare for the upcoming operation.
Operation Icefish will be the first campaign of its kind, using innovative direct action tactics to fill a law enforcement void exploited by illegal toothfish operators.
The Bob Barker and the Sam Simon will leave Hobart and Wellington, respectively, to patrol the Antarctic.
Peter Hammarstedt, Captain of M/Y Bob Barker and Director of Ship Operations said in a statement that illegal fishing operations will be documented, reported, and confronted. He added, “they will be physically obstructed from deploying their illegal gillnets and unlawful fishing gear will be confiscated and destroyed.”
Michael Lawry, Sea Shepherd New Zealand welcomed the Sea Shepherd ship. He said Sea Shepherd launched a pioneering work to patrol the seas in 2002 with one ship that left Auckland to confront illegal whalers. In its 12 years of operation, thousands of whales were saved. “Come down and welcome the ship and brave crew into our port,” he said.
An Australian Government report said there is large-scale illegal toothfish fishing around the Southern Ocean which was first noticed in 1997. Surveillance and monitoring were then put in place. According to the report, there was a spike in catch up to three to four times higher than the allowable and legal catch of species in all areas. According to the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators Inc, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for toothfish “has been reduced by about 95% since peak levels in the 1990s.” At present, IUU fishing for this species is restricted to the high seas and mostly they are caught by gillnet.
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in the Antarctic or sub Antarctic waters. AFMA said prices fetch up to $US10 per kilo for headed, gutted and tailed fish in major markets in Japan and the United States. Toothfish can grow to a large size (over two metres long and 100 kg in weight). Its white flesh is considered to be of top quality with few bones. Tootfish is served as a gourmet dish in high end restaurants around the world.