By J. Brock (SARTMA)
A Poacher at work. It's up to us to stop them.
Laws to protect seabirds such as Albatross and Petrels from getting snared on longline hooks do not, in many cases, affect those fishing companies and operatives who are engaged in fishing piracy. Information on the COLTO website, for example, tells us that only half of the total Patagonian Toothfish catch is legal The other half of the Toothfish catch is illegally caught. It is the legal entity that bares the brunt of the law when caught ignoring these laws but Toothfish pirates don’t have to report anything.
Licensing regimes such as those around the Falkland Islands, as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands have stiff policies attached to each longlining licence they issue that are meant to help protect seabirds at sea. One recent case involving 27 Black-Browed Albatross deaths cost the legal fishermen and their companies approximately £14,500.00 in fines and court costs. Chances are that, only when caught poaching, will pirates be penalised for the seabird deaths they have caused.
Another sad consequence is that poaching takes food from the birds, who rely on the fish while spending many months at sea. There is a direct correlation between the increase of longline poaching activity and the numbers of seabirds killed. When wholesale poaching goes on there are two immediate losers: the fish stocks and the seabirds that rely on those stocks. Subsequent losers are the governments and therefore the people of those areas where the resource is being taken.
It stands to reason that there needs to be co-operation between adjacent fisheries regimes, such as that of the Falklands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, in order to stem poaching and therefore seabird mortality.
A CALL TO STAMP OUT POACHING:
An article on the COLTO website dated 14 August 2003 suggests that Uruguayan poachers are sending false satellite reports to their home ports, thus violating CCAMLR regulations. Perhaps this method of tracking needs to be tightened up so that false reports are immediately detected. That centralised satellite vessel (more than one may be needed) for the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean seems to be an excellent step that pooled resources could manage.
There needs to be better co-operation between the ports where fish are off loaded and governments reporting flagged ships that have been poaching. The answer "I only know about it from your newspaper" is a shallow one from an FCO desk officer responsible for St. Helena. Action needs to be taken when the theft of valuable resources is reported. Just noting a report in a newspaper (St. Helena Herald) rather than looking in the "IN" trey, or acting on the story won’t benefit the people who are victimised.
When fisheries patrol vessels are available, it helps to know where the fish are. Like it or not, where there are fish, there will be poachers. It would move things along if a patrol boat was sitting above the fish instead of in port. A good scientific cruise will map out the migration patterns of the commercial species so that protection can be provided.
Genetically and/or parasitically tagging your resources is a must if you are to track its origins. If you know it comes from your fishing grounds and it was caught illegally, then there is a better chance to catch the entity that poached it. Toothfish from one area may have different genetic markers than that of another area and a better spot check along with an accurate data base could identify the differences.
High fines do make people more clever when it comes to being caught in the act of poaching. It takes an even more clever patrol to find them out. More communication between small islands with rich fisheries would help plug up the drain on the resource. If one Island doesn’t have the money for a boat, then perhaps one could be leased by all of them for a limited period until a proper boat can be confiscated from a poacher.
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:
Poachers could care less whether an island needs a new hospital or school. They aren’t concerned about whether a government has resources to upgrade infrastructure or to send pupils away to university. Further to this, they haven’t a clue about environmental damage caused by the killing of seabirds. They want the resource and will take extraordinary risks to get at it. Some companies even have a space in their operating budgets for the payment of fines should any of their employees go through the Court system. Authorities need to have an equally tough attitude towards those who are engaged in poaching. When Toothfish pirates are caught, for example, it is hoped that seabird deaths are also investigated and acted on and prosecuted in due course.
Our congratulations to organisations like the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO) fir the inroads made to ensuring sustainable Toothfish resources and subsequently the decline in seabird mortality.