Elimination of IUU fishing and the world’s first catch document scheme

, CCAMLR Secretariat

Photo by Karl Hermann Kock

Elimination of IUU fishing and the world’s first catch document scheme

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem, and it occurs in all oceans, estimated by some to be worth tens of billions of dollars a year. The use of the term “IUU” was first used by CCAMLR in 1997, and in 1999 this term was adopted by the international community in the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO)’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing in 2001.

The development of the longline fishery for toothfish in the late 1980s was the first test of CCAMLR’s ability to manage an entirely new fishery. The first indications of unreported or illegal removals of toothfish from the Convention Area were apparent at the Commission’s meeting of 1993 when a number of infringements of CCAMLR conservation measures were reported in the south Atlantic sector. In 1996 this activity expanded to the southern Indian Ocean sector, and later to the Pacific sector.

Some of the features that made IUU fishing for these species attractive in the Convention Area were the initially high catch rates of populations that were previously unfished, the high value of toothfish (which increased as the global catch was reduced following successful reductions in IUU fishing – toothfish price has varied from around USD $5/kg in the mid-1990s to around USD $30/kg today). The remoteness of many of the fishing areas in the Antarctic and the difficulty monitoring and enforcing activities further made IUU fishing for these species attractive. These features make fishing profitable and the chances of detection and apprehension low.

Several initiatives were taken by CCAMLR in the 1990s to reduce and eliminate IUU fishing for toothfish. These included efforts to increase surveillance and apprehension of fishers and reduce the value of IUU-caught toothfish compared to catches by licenced vessels, both of which reduced the profitability of IUU activities.

One of the most famous actions was the chase of the Viarsa 1, which in 2003 was spotted fishing illegally around Heard Island and was chased 7 200 km in a cooperative action between several CCAMLR Members until it was apprehended 4 000 km southwest of Cape Town. Between 1997 and 1999 France and Australia arrested 18 vessels engaged in IUU fishing around Kerguelen, Crozet and Heard and McDonald Islands.

Viarsa 1. Photo Romain Lopez

In 1997 CCAMLR introduced a formal procedure for putting vessels discovered to be engaged in IUU fishing in the Convention Area on an “IUU vessel list”. Inclusion on an IUU vessel list means that CCAMLR Contracting Parties must not licence the listed vessel to fish in the Convention Area, prevent their vessels from transhipping with the listed vessel, and generally deny it port access, among other requirements. This makes it very difficult for vessels included on IUU vessel lists to continue to operate as fishing vessels. Other international organisations managing fishing activities also maintain IUU vessel lists. 

In 1999, CCAMLR developed the world’s first catch documentation scheme to eliminate the access of IUU-caught fish from global markets for toothfish. Considered to be one of the most effective catch document schemes in the world, the Catch Documentation Scheme for Dissostichus spp. (CDS) traces the flow of toothfish from the location of capture through to the final point of international trade, with governmental officials inspecting and issuing catch documents and export documents as required. Contracting Parties prohibit the import of toothfish products without accompanying documents issued by the CDS, preventing the import of illegally harvested toothfish from the largest global markets. The CDS also allows CCAMLR to identify, through tracing of the trade of toothfish,  where toothfish is being imported by countries that are not Contracting Parties to CCAMLR, and CCAMLR encourages them to participate voluntarily in the scheme.

The actions of CCAMLR and its Contracting Parties were assisted by actions from the fishing industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are observers to CCAMLR meetings. In 1997 the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, a member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), an umbrella NGO observer to CCAMLR, set up a monitoring operation with financial assistance from licensed toothfish fishers and the Australian government. In 2003 this industry coalition set up the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO). These organisations were able to gather information on toothfish IUU fishing activities from industry contacts and exert social pressure to eliminate IUU fishing.

Together all these activities have successfully reduced IUU fishing for toothfish in CCAMLR waters, but the organisation remains vigilant against any signs of recurrence!

Estimates of IUU catches of toothfish made by CCAMLR
(source: SC-CAMLR-2010 Annex 8, Table 5; and SC-CAMLR-XXXVII Annex 9 Figure 1).