Sub-Antarctic Legal and Regulated Fishing
Austral Fisheries is licensed by the Australian Government to fish for Patagonian Toothfish and Mackerel Icefish in the Southern Ocean in Australia’s Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Fishery, which is managed taking into account ecosystem-based measures set by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and governed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). We are also licensed to fish in the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery, which is managed by the Australian Government in a way that’s consistent with international ecosystem-based management set by CCAMLR.
CCAMLR came into force in 1982, as part of the Antarctic Treaty System. The aim of the CAMLR Convention is the conservation of marine life of the Southern Ocean, which includes rational use. A precautionary approach has been implemented for harvesting, to minimise risk associated with overfishing or unsustainable practices in conditions of uncertainty. The CAMLR Commission has 25 member nations as well as a further 9 that are party to the Convention.
Australia’s Quota Management System in the sub-Antarctic is based on proportional harvest property rights allocated in perpetuity (called quota). An annual harvest right is generated from quota ownership based on the percentage of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC). Strict regimes are in place to ensure compliance with catch landing and reporting requirements to ensure that quota rights and responsibilities are protected, including those to crack down on the previous problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
In striving to achieve a balance between resource use and conservation, AFMA and the Management Advisory Committees (MACs) draw upon advice provided by Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs). RAGs comprise fishery scientists, industry members, fishery economists, management and other interest groups. The main role of RAGs is to provide advice on the status of fish stocks and on the impact of fishing on the marine environment. The MACs consider the advice of RAGs and provide recommendations to the Board based on overall objectives for the particular fishery (risk management) and, ultimately, to the pursuit of AFMA’s legislative objectives.
We take our responsibilities for research and environmental awareness very seriously. We carry one Australian Government observer as well as an independent Data Collection Officer on board each of our voyages. One of these observers monitors the catch for quantity, sex, length, weight and stomach contents as well as conducting a range of research work including random stratified trawl surveys and tag and recapture studies to assist scientists to assess the status of the target species and therefore appropriate levels of catch. The second observer checks the interaction of the fishing operation with other sea-life including birds and mammals. This work allows the fishing operation to be modified in order to minimise any impacts of fishing. Austral Fisheries strives to maintain extremely low bycatch levels and to minimise any accidental interactions with marine mammals and seabirds, and must comply with numerous conditions on our Statutory Fishing Rights.
In 2002, Austral Fisheries was involved with the Department of Environment and Heritage Australia in setting up the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve. This Reserve covers an area of approximately 65,000km and includes Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, the surrounding 12 nautical mile territorial sea, plus an extensive marine area. The Macquarie Island Marine Protected Area covers approximately 162,000km and is the second largest Marine Protected Area in the world.
Marine Stewardship Council
In November 2006, Heard Island & McDonald Islands (HIMI) Mackerel Icefish was the first fish in Australia to be certified as sustainable by the MSC. In 2011, this passed the 5 year reassessment that all certifications must adhere to. March 2012 saw HIMI Patagonian Toothfish also receive MSC’s sustainable status as a well managed fishery, which was followed in May 2012 when the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery also reached the sustainable status endorsed by the MSC. Austral Fisheries hold about a 70% share of all three of these Australian sub-Antarctic fisheries.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program
In 2013, both the Heard Island & McDonald Island Toothfish Fishery and the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery were rated as ‘Best Choice’ by the independent Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which is one of the most recognised seafood chooser websites in the world. In 2017, the Monterey Bay Aquarium changed the way they rate MSC certified seafood and now ‘recommend’ all MSC certified fisheries.
Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing
Toothfish were under significant threat from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing over a period from the mid-1990’s until the early 2000’s. Austral Fisheries worked closely with other legal industry members, conservation non-government organisations (NGOs), governments and agencies to combat and eliminate IUU toothfish fishing from the Australian fishing zone, and had considerable success at achieving dramatic results. There has been no IUU toothfish caught from the Heard Island or Macquarie Island regions since the 2005 season, and IUU toothfish catches globally have reduced from a peak of over 60,000 tonnes per annum to an average of below 1,500t over the past 4 years. The current IUU catch is not being taken from countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones, rather from High Seas areas of the CCAMLR region, and has moved away from Patagonian toothfish and is now targeting Antarctic toothfish.
In the late 1990s, Austral Fisheries, along with the Australian Government, WWF, Tasmanian Conservation Trust and Sealord, were involved in setting up ISOFISH, or the International Southern Ocean Fishing Information Clearing House. ISOFISH provided an increased awareness of IUU toothfish fishing through the media and was largely responsible for the decline of IUU toothfish fishing in the late 1990s.
By the early 2000s, IUU fishing for toothfish in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters was back on the rise and recognised by Austral Fisheries and other responsible fishing companies as a significant problem. To help eliminate this issue, Austral Fisheries created the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO) with the strong support of over 20 other legal companies involved with toothfishing. COLTO is an incorporated organisation that represents legal toothfish operators globally. It was established to help authorities reduce the incidence of IUU fishing of toothfish, but now, due to the success against illegal operators (reducing IUU catch by 95%), focuses on the promotion of legal, sustainable toothfish caught from well managed fisheries. Austral Fisheries continues to be a strong supporter financially and is active in the COLTO group, which currently has 41 members from 11 countries.
Credit must go to governments, CCAMLR and its member nations, as well as NGOs and legal operators for the decline in IUU toothfish fishing over recent years. The success against IUU fishing in Australia’s toothfish fisheries does not mean the battle is won. We must remain eternally vigilant as a matter of sovereignty in protecting our nation’s resources to ensure IUU fishing does not return to our fisheries.