IUU History

It’s an unfortunate reality that there have been a few unscrupulous people who have put short term profit and illegal gain ahead of sustainable fishing and sustainable environmental practices. IUU toothfish activity has the potential to threaten not just legal fishing operators’ livelihoods, but also toothfish populations and ecologically related species such as seabirds, which are caught and drowned by illegal fishermen as they do not adhere to the same environmental requirements as legal operators.

Each of these problems is cause for concern to governments, industry and conservation groups as well as the general public, and correctly so.  Regulations and requirements for legal toothfish operators are stringent and are designed to ensure sustainable harvesting of toothfish populations, which promote sustainable fishing practices that avoid killing seabirds and mammals, and sustainable livelihoods for legal fishermen.  Information regarding these stringent seabird related regulations can be found on our Seabirds page and more information on bycatch regulations and management actions for ecosystem based managed can be found from the CCAMLR website.

Further to these regulations, CCAMLR annually reviews catch levels and implements limits on the legal take of toothfish, sets research requirements and programs for legal operators, and works to improve understanding of the stock and ecological linkages that exist in toothfish and other fisheries in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions.

Of all the issues CCAMLR deals with, IUU fishing for toothfish is the most significant threat to undermine the fisheries resources management as well as the ecologically related species management by CCAMLR.  IUU fishermen abide by none of the CCAMLR measures, and IUU fishing has been estimated to have killed tens of thousands of seabirds in the Southern Oceans during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Industry members were instrumental, with conservation groups, in setting up the International Southern Oceans Fishing Industry Clearing House (ISOFISH) in 1997, which reported on IUU activity over a three year period.  This group was funded variously from industry, conservation and government groups.

The information gathered from both industry and conservation sources was compiled and distributed to governments and appropriate agencies to assist them to eliminate IUU fishing for toothfish.  ISOFISH produced reports on IUU activity from Norway, Mauritius, and Chile as well as a report on how illegal operators were changing vessel names and ports of registration to avoid legal requirements such as the CCAMLR Catch Documentation System.

So successful was ISOFISH that the IUU fishing dropped to minimal levels by 1999/2000 and the group was subsequently disbanded.

Unfortunately, after ISOFISH members decided that sufficient profiling and assistance had been given to authorities to enable effective control over toothfish IUU fishing, the lack of an industry/conservation group “watchdog” saw increased activities by new, more highly organised IUU operators.  These illegal operators believed they no longer had a significant risk of capture and/or public exposure for their illicit activities.

Consequently, IUU fishing for toothfish saw an increase as newer, more organised, illegal operators began, or returned, to plunder populations of toothfish.

In an attempt to quantify the IUU toothfish trade, several studies were undertaken by TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network).  Their reports can be found at TRAFFIC.

The TRAFFIC reports demonstrated that there was a substantial quantity of toothfish entering the trade from illegal sources, confirming what was already known by industry and CCAMLR Members. There has been no recent update of those studies, although with IUU fishing at historical low levels and product documentation for legal toothfish now preventing IUU toothfish access to the main markets of USA, Japan, China and Europe, a market based study will be difficult to achieve.

A powerful example of the sort of shift that has occurred in the type of operators involved in the IUU fishing activity was outlined in the report released in 2002, titled “The Alphabet Boats, a case study of toothfish poaching in the Indian Ocean” which outlined one group of IUU operations. Following this report, COLTO produced “Rogues Gallery – The new face of IUU fishing for toothfish” in October, 2003.

Following the release of the Alphabet Boats report, Australian journalists compiled an international investigative program on IUU fishing for toothfish, released on the ABC called “Toothfish Pirates”.

Since this time IUU fishing has declined significantly however, as history has shown, COLTO members and its supporters need to remain vigilant.

How to eliminate IUU fishing for toothfish

As has been demonstrated many times, government actions alone are unable to keep up with the speed of illegal fishing activities.  And toothfish is a species of fish found in highly remote areas, often thousands of miles from the nearest populated landmass, and in very bad weather conditions.   For governments alone to effectively enforce fishing activities in the southern ocean is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive exercise.

Effective surveillance and enforcement can only come, we believe, by legal operators, conservation groups and government agencies working in partnership to combat IUU fishing.

[Read about the outcomes from the OECD IUU Workshop held in Paris, April 2004]

To eliminate IUU fishing for toothfish, COLTO sees the need for controls as being much broader than just enforcement activity at sea.  It involves the need for:

  • Member nations of CCAMLR to work together to devise and implement rules to restrict opportunities for IUU fishing;
  • Member nations of CCAMLR to take effective domestic, action to preclude their nationals from participating in IUU fishing, and to ensure they have considerable disincentives (eg financial penalties)  to dissuade their nationals from illicit activities;
  • For innocent countries to avoid their Ships Registers and company structures from being abused by IUU operators (who use these countries for rapid name changes of their vessels, flag changes, and registrations to avoid capture);
  • Port States must check all unloadings and landings of toothfish in their country, whether it be for export, import or just transhipment, and to provide that information to the relevant international and CCAMLR authorities;
  • Effective communication channels between legal industry, conservation groups, the general public, and governments to place as much pressure as possible on IUU operators to cease; and
  • The provision of detailed, accurate evidence and information from those who may be aware of IUU activity but who otherwise had no-one to provide this information to.