SOUTH GEORGIA MARITIME ZONE: A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE OF MANAGEMENT AND SCIENCE
By J. Brock (SARTMA)
Renowned fisheries throughout the world have one common thread that binds both management and science to ensure the sustainability of commercial stocks within their maritime zone. That common thread entails strict management, not only of people and vessels but also of the biomass that feeds the fishery. One remarkable example of an efficiently run fishery is that of the South Atlantic Island of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Patrick Lurcock (PL), the Islandsí Marine Officer, (Russ Jarvis is Director of Fisheries until Harriet Hall replaces him later this year) began this interview by explaining what stocks besides Antarctic Krill and Patagonian Toothfish were being taken from the South Georgia Maritime Zone. He began by telling SARTMA about the completed 2001/2002 season, as the 2002/2003 season hasnít finished.
PL: I will tell you about last year. As you know, the whole Southern Fishery is driven by CCAMLR (The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Maritime Living Resources). Lots of different nations join in on that. They set the TACs (Total Allowable Catches) and their fishing year runs from the First of December to the end of November. I will talk about 2002. It includes December 2001 but not December 2002.
In 2002, we had three commercial fisheries. There was trawling for Krill, which takes place during the southern winter. Last year we had 8 vessels. Last winter we also had 15 vessels long-lining for Toothfish, and the summer before that we had 5 vessels trawling for Mackerel Ice Fish. We have two other fisheries developing here. One is potting for Crab and in 2002, we had one Japanese potter operating but it has yet to develop into a major fishery. We have also had the occasional Korean Jigger come down looking for Martialia Squid (Seven Star Flying Squid), but not every year. The last time was two years ago but they didnít do very well. It is a fishery they are interested in but they have not really worked out where the squid are and where to go at the right time of year.
SARTMA: Before the season began last year, a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was set by CCAMLR. What was that figure and did the fishing effort for Patagonian Toothfish, for example, reach that figure before the Fishery closed for the season?
PL: CCAMLR sets a TAC for every species that is caught commercially, as well as setting limits on other vulnerable species that may get caught in the process (by-catch). CCAMLR manages fish stocks by region - using statistical areas defined by the United Nations Organisation for Food and Agriculture. Area 48, for instance, covers the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean from the (Antarctic) Peninsula right round past South Africa. This is a big area so is divided into sub-areas, in which fish stocks are managed separately. A different TAC is calculated for each sub-area because each has different stocks of fish and it would not be good stock management to set a single overall TAC which would allow over-fishing in one area and leave another untouched.
South Georgia is in sub-area of 48.3, where CCAMLR allocated a 5,820 tonnes TAC last year. Of this 5,534 tonnes were actually taken within the 200-mile Maritime Zone. So, that is 95% of the TAC taken. As for Ice-fish, 5,557 tonnes of TAC, of which about 48% were taken, so less than half of the allocation was taken. The Crab fishing the year before only took a small percentage of the available TAC.
The toothfish fishery was closed by CCAMLR before the season (1 May to 31 August - set to avoid the breeding seasons of most seabirds that can get entangled in the lines) closed. Every vessel reports their catches to CCAMLR via their flag state as the season progresses. CCAMLR keep a running total of catches and as the total catch approaches the TAC they project current catch rates forward to an estimated finishing date and close the fishery accordingly.
There is a little complication in that there is a little bit of subarea 48.3 that is in international waters, outside the South Georgia 200-mile Maritime Zone. CCAMLR and GSGSSI take into account the vessels fishing there as they are still required to report their catches to CCAMLR. The fishing is not so good out there, so we can make a reasonable guess at what will be taken and issue fewer licenses within the MZ accordingly.
SARTMA: Is there, yet, a TAC for Krill? Have CCAMLR set one and if so, what is it?
PL: There is a TAC for Krill; CCAMLR set a TAC for every target species. CCAMLR set it at a precautionary 4,000,000 tonnes of Krill within the whole of area 48. They then subdivide that so that sub-area 48.3 has a TAC of 1,056,000 tonnes. The South Georgia area is very productive so CCAMLR decided that about a million tonnes could be taken before it starts impinging on the amount of Krill that is available for everything else. At the moment the amount of Krill being taken is insignificant compared to the amount of Krill that is out there. 45,500 tonnes, only 4.5% of this TAC, were actually taken last year, and that was a good year; exceeded only once in the previous decade and then only by a bit. Because the Krill stocks are so super abundant, CCAMLR have set a low precautionary figure and of that low precautionary figure, only 4% were caught last year. So, that means we are pretty confident that there is no significant pressure on the krill fishery so there is not a real urgency to do the fine-scale in-depth monitoring of catch and effort and the biology, though we do know quite a bit about the biology. In contrast with this the Toothfish is in high demand and the TAC is taken fully each year. This makes it more important to concentrate on being vigilant with the stock assessment and monitoring of catch rates during the season as there is not the safety margin with Toothfish as there is with Krill. The other advantage that we have with Krill compared with something like Toothfish is that Krill do not live very long, just like the squid in the Falklands, and so have a fast breeding cycle. If you have a Ďblipí, a bad year, it does not take long to breed back up once conditions get good again, whereas South Georgiaís finfish grow very slowly. If you get it wrong and hammer them too hard, it takes a long time to recover, as has happened with the marbled rock cod, which was fished very heavily in the 1970s by huge soviet fleets and whilst not extinct is still only recovering slowly.
So Krill is being watched. CCAMLR and the Government here have their eye on it, making sure that itís not endangered and we are confident that the Krill stocks are at a level that can sustain the fishing effort.
SARTMA: Surely, there has been some forethought in this but given that Krill are a major food source for the wildlife that is indigenous to South Georgia, is there any priority to find out what catches for human consumption can be taken?
PL: Yes. There is research being done. British Antarctic Survey people on Bird Island, and on ships carrying out research cruises, are working on biomass levels and predator-prey relationships. They want to know what stock levels are in all the species - how much krill there is; how many penguins there are; how many seabirds there are; how many seals there are. And, they want to know what they eat and how much. With this knowledge they can estimate the quantities of krill and other food species are needed by the wildlife. The TAC then takes into account how much krill must be left for these other species, and how much must be left to breed. The management strategy works from this ecosystem approach and running it depends on everything, especially when something like Krill is so central to the whole food web. I donít know the numbers but I know there are people working on it and fine-tuning our estimates of just how much stock of Krill there is.
They do it using the James Clark Ross, sailing up and down doing acoustic surveys of Krill and other species and, with the hands-on studies of the creatures of the beaches. The scientists on Bird Island put satellite tags on seals and penguins and seabirds and see where they go and then they look at the stomach contents and see what they eat. Then, for example, they can estimate how much food a penguin needs over a year. We have got some work with HMS Endurance. They have been taking aerial photographs using their helicopters, of the various penguin colonies, to get a better idea of how many penguins are breeding. The whole idea is that when we fish for Krill we do leave enough for the birds and other wildlife here to eat. That includes whales and other fish, even though we canít see them. And, the biologists aboard the commercial fishing ships and the biologists here at KEP are looking to see what the fish eat as well. So, we are constantly building up a better picture of the interaction between birds, penguins, fish and seals.
SARTMA: What, if any, licences for research fishing have been granted by the Government of South Georgia? Is the research on targeted species, or more general research?
PL: I really donít know and that is because my job involves going on board the commercial vessels that come here. They are not allowed to start fishing until the licence has been paid for and I have issued it. Before issuing it I inspect the ship to make sure that it is set up to comply with a whole set of conservation measures that are set by CCAMLR. These limit the fishing gear that can be used and other aspects of the fishing process, both to reduce incidental mortality of non-target species including seabirds and to ensure that small fish get the opportunity to escape; we ensure that management of plastic waste is up to scratch; we ensure that they have the satellite transponder that will enable their flag state to monitor their position. I issue logbooks in which the Captain must record details of fishing effort and catch for later detailed analysis by the stock assessment people. I explain the daily reporting that I want - summaries of each dayís fishing operations and positions. And eventually, when I am satisfied that they are ready to comply with all our requirements, they can start fishing.
The research fishing does not require all of this so I do not get involved since there are CCAMLR scientists on board the research vessels who look after it. There is research work that goes on. Not just by the BAS ship JAMES CLARK ROSS and the Falkland Islands research ship DORADA but by other nations, for instance the Russian trawler ATLANTIDA was here last year.
Generally, every two years, we have the Ground Fish Survey, a research cruise with the DORADA, on charter from the Falkland Islands Government. This looks at stock levels of commercial fish species. They come to the same places year after year so they can get a time series of how the various stocks are doing. That is quite an important tool for estimating the stock levels for future licensing levels.
Although we are doing that work, all the information goes back to CCAMLR and gets put into the big picture with the work other CCAMLR members do. We are not working separately from them; all the information gets pooled into one big model. In the past, other vessels have come and I know the South Georgia Government are very happy for properly funded and properly organised research fishing to take place because it all adds up to give us more information for which to run the fishery.
SARTMA: How effective is satellite surveillance for doing fisheries protection work? Has the system working for the South Georgia Government caught any poachers, for example?
PL: We use a satellite system that can see through clouds and fog, so can spot ships at any time. Every vessel that is fishing in the zone, cruise ships going too and fro, other vessels, all report their positions at certain times. I collate these reports and send the information off to the guys that are receiving the satellite pictures and they correlate the pictures with the positions I sent them. They come up with any targets that donít match up with the vessels that we know about. When there is a patrol vessel in the area, it means that we can be much more effective in deciding where the patrol ship should go. Another benefit is that when we donít have a patrol ship in the area, we can still get a better idea of what, if any, illegal fishing is going on, which means we can be more precise when allowing for illegal fishing in the stock assessment.
It has not resulted in any arrests yet, but that is more due to the fact that we donít have a significant poaching problem. This summer has been very constructive because I have now every vessel reporting their positions to me every day. At the same time, I ask if they have seen any fishing vessels. And, while we had three fishing vessels taking icefish, the cruise ships coming through reported the number of ships that they saw fishing. One reported four, which made me sit up and listen. When I checked my records, I discovered the Research Ship, Dorada had passed through in the night, so, there were four trawlers that she had seen. So, we are certainly getting ships that are passing between here and the Shag Rocks area of the Falklands, which is one of the major fishing zones, tourism vessels coming through and seeing only licensed vessels. But because they are seeing licensed vessels, it means they are looking and they are reporting. They are not seeing any unlicensed vessels, which is good news.
SARTMA: Are vessels licensed to fish in the South Georgia Maritime Zone fitted with transponders? How effective are they in helping to track the origin of Toothfish caught when catches reach the market?
PL: It is important to know where the Toothfish are being caught. It is a CCAMLR requirement that every vessel has a transponder that automatically reports the vesselís position to the flag state (the country of registration) every four hours. It is up to each flag state to ensure that its vessels are fishing in the subareas that they are licensed to fish in - as well as a licence from GSGSSI they must have a license from their flag state to fish within CCAMLR-controlled waters. Ships must also report their catches and positions to the flag state so the flag state authority can check that catches really do come from the authorised area.
Another CCAMLR requirement is that transhipment or unloading of the toothfish catch may only take place once the flag state has done this checking and issued the vessel with an authorisation code, which is entered in a Catch Document that accompanies the fish to market. In addition to this, CCAMLR member states will not allow transhipment or unloading of toothfish until this Catch Document is properly completed and authorised. That is part of my job here - to verify the quantity that a vessel wishes to tranship as well as ensuring that the flag state has authorised the transhipment and that the Catch Document has been correctly completely. Only then will I allow the transhipment to proceed.
The answer to that one is yes. Not only does this give us confidence but it also demonstrates to the markets when they sell it on that it really does come from this fishery.
It is important for us that the vessels are able to reliably demonstrate that their catches came from the South Georgia fishery. There are consumer groups who have recognised that longlining for toothfish can be fatal to seabirds, particularly the vulnerable albatrosses, and are applying pressure on consumers not to buy the product. In order to continue the level of protection that we are succeeding with at the moment we need a strong market for South Georgia toothfish so that we can continue to charge enough for licenses to be able to afford all the stock assessment and surveillance that this protection takes. More consumer demand for responsibly caught toothfish, and an equally important drop in demand for IUU (Illegal, unregulated and unreported) fish will encourage fishermen to fish within the CCAMLR framework, saving birds.
One last thing of importance is the fact that South Georgiaís albatrosses often feed outside the 200-mile maritime zone. If they are to be protected from fatal fishing practises, operators of fishing vessels all around the Southern Oceans need to implement the same comprehensive protection measures that we require inside the MZ. We have shown that it is possible for a fishery to remain commercially viable even if the protection measures are all observed. It is now up to those who care, to apply appropriate pressure on the international fishing community. Fishing is a business so the most effective pressure is economic pressure - donít buy fish unless you are sure that it comes from a responsibly run fishery.
It is no coincidence that two of the worldís best managed fisheries are near to each other in the South Atlantic and that they do share resources as well as management techniques and personnel. This ensures sustainable fish stocks and licence revenue that are on going in both economic zones.
Equally as encouraging is the fact that Fisheries officers have a grasp of the science that accompanies well-managed fisheries. Indeed, in the Falklands and in South Georgia, they share the same infrastructure (offices and buildings) so there is a constant flow of information going both ways.
In part two, readers will find out about some of the related science that makes the South Georgia Fishery so viable.