Chile catches entire Patagonian toothfish quota in just four months

Chile’s industrial fleet has caught the total allowable catch (TAC) of Patagonian toothfish for this year in just four months, as industry is calling on local authorities for a quota extension.

This year’s TAC for industrial vessels was set at 1,100 metric tons. The fishing season was expected to run from January to May and then from September to December, after a three-month halt in catches for reproductive purposes.

By the end of April, though, the Chilean fleet had caught its entire quota for 2015, which saw a sharp 47% quota cut year-on-year. Artisanal vessels, with a quota of 988t, also finished their quota in just four months.

The fishing has revealed abundant stocks, Eduardo Infante, general manager of Chile’s main Patagonian toothfish catcher Globalpesca — and chairman of the Association of Operators of Magellan Sea Bass (Aobac) — told Undercurrent News.

“We believe the resource is in good condition,” Infante said.

“Ten years ago we caught 25% of fish with sizes reaching 20 kilos, while now this size represents 40% of our catches,” he said.

Since the onset of Chile’s new fishing law, which entered into force on Jan. 1, 2013, the TAC for Patagonian toothfish have been slashed by the Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca), based on recommendations from eight scientific committees.

“Our usual quota was 3,000t, and now it is about one third of this,” Infante said.

In 2014, the TAC for Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass was set at 2,086t, down 52.5% year-on-year.

The cut came as catches were slow in 2013 — Chilean vessels caught 2,770t of Patagonian toothfish in the first ten months of the year, 11% down from the same period last year, according to Subpesca.

The decrease in landings was due to Pesca Chile ceasing operations following the troubles of its parent company, Pescanova, that filed for administration in April 2013, Infante said. Also, predation of marine mammals, especially whales, hit catches, he said.

After two years of TAC cuts, Patagonian toothfish stocks seem to have recovered as fishing operations have been “the same or even better” than in the previous years of quota restrictions, Infante said.

Scientific committees had set quotas based on a report from Chile’s Fisheries Promotion Institute (IFOP), Infante said, which has been challenged by the Australian scientist Tom Polacheck.

According to Polacheck’s report, seen by Undercurrent, the current assessment models are not considered “an adequate and robust basis for the determination of stock status”.

“Based on this report and the development of catches, we hope the scientific committee reviews its quota decision for this year,” Infante said.

Due to Patagonian toothfish’s biological characteristics and habitat, at 2,000 meters of depth, catches are the only viable measure to assess stocks.

“For the next year there will not be enough data to determine the stock of the resource, since fishing operations are already finished with this quota,” Infante said.

“There will be no new data on catches in the following moths, therefore, scientists will not have enough information to set the quota for the next year,” he said.

Although headed, gutted tail-off (HGT) Patagonian toothfish prices have gone up to $25 per kilo, the industry has been hit detrimentally by $30 million, and 300 employees less, with the quota cuts, Infante said.

-From Undercurrent News