Australian patrol in pursuit of suspected illegal fishing vessel in sub-Antarctic waters (2003)

Joint Ministerial Media Release

Australian patrol in pursuit of suspected illegal fishing vessel in sub-Antarctic waters – Tuesday 12 August 2003

Senator The Hon Ian Macdonald
Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation

Senator The Hon Chris Ellison
Minister for Justice and Customs

Dr Sharman Stone MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment

An Australian Customs and Fisheries patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean is in pursuit of a foreign fishing vessel suspected of fishing illegally in Australian waters.

It is understood that the vessel has identified itself as the Uruguayan-flagged Viarsa.

Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison and the Minister for Fisheries Senator Ian Macdonald said it is alleged that the Australian patrol vessel, Southern Supporter, located a vessel on Thursday afternoon (7 August) inside the Australian Fishing Zone adjacent to Heard Island and McDonald Islands, approximately 4,000 kilometres south west of the Australian mainland.

Senator Ellison said despite heavy seas and poor weather conditions, the Southern Supporter is pursuing theViarsa as it is believed the vessel may have breached provisions of Australia’s Fisheries Management Act 1991.

“The Southern Supporter’s patrol is part of an increased effort by the Australian Government to protect our exclusive economic zone in the Southern Ocean.  There is the fundamental consideration of Australia’s national sovereignty in this matter,” Senator Ellison said.

The Australian Government has made strong representations to the Uruguayan Government asking it to exercise its flag state responsibilities and require the Viarsa to accompany the Southern Supporter to the nearest Australian port (Fremantle) to enable further investigations to be conducted.

The Uruguayan Government has informed Australia that it is cooperating with this request and the Australian Government anticipates that this cooperation will continue.

Federal Fisheries Minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, said that the Australian Government was well regarded internationally for its efforts in stamping out illegal fishing both in Australia and on the High Seas.

“The Southern Ocean is home to the very valuable Patagonian Toothfish and is a fragile marine ecosystem.

“Given the vulnerability of Patagonian Toothfish to overfishing, poaching represents a threat not just to the commercial interests of legally licensed Australian fishers but the commercial survival of the species,” Senator Macdonald said.

Senator Macdonald said that the Australian Government is committed to stamping out illegal fishing in Australian waters.

Dr Sharman Stone, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, said that Uruguay, like Australia, was one of 24 member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which manages marine resources in this area.

“Uruguay has a clear responsibility to ensure that vessels registered to fly its flag comply with International laws and internationally agreed conservation measures, and do not fish in Australian waters without authorisation,” Dr Stone said.

“Australia has made the CCAMLR Secretariat aware of this issue and is asking all members of CCAMLR to provide assistance in relation to this matter.

“The issue of illegal fishing and vessel compliance will be a key issue in the forthcoming CCAMLR meeting to be held in Hobart where Australia will again push for a centralised vessel monitoring system housed in the CCAMLR Secretariat,” she said.

For further information, please contact:

Senator Macdonald’s Office:
Philip Connole                      02 6277 7270 or 0417 063 605

Senator Ellison’s Office:
Mairi Barton                         02 6277 7260 or 0439 300 335

Dr Stone’s Office:
Amanda Kennedy                 02 6277 2016 or 0423 577 045

Photos of the vessel which is being pursued by the Southern Supporter are available by contacting Matt Wardell in Customs Public Relations on 02 6275 6508.