14 August 2003
Was the Uruguayan Government Tricked? COLTO alleges Toothfish pirates falsify satellite vessel monitoring position data
An international organisation consisting of legal Toothfish operators (COLTO) believes the owners and operators of the alleged pirate vessel the Viarsa may have tricked the Uruguayan Government, one of the 24 Member Nations of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). An Australian Fisheries and Customs patrol vessel has been chasing the Viarsa for about a week after spotting it allegedly fishing illegally in Australian waters.
According to COLTO, Uruguay has an international obligation and legal responsibility under CCAMLR to be monitoring all Uruguayan licensed Toothfish fishing vessels.
South African based COLTO spokesperson, Tim Reddell said satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS) must be used to monitor the fishing areas of every licensed Toothfish fishing vessel working in CCAMLR waters.
In addition to ensuring boats are working where they claim to be, the legally required VMS is an integral part of the CCAMLR agreed scheme of catch documentation for Toothfish. Officials use the VMS reports to verify that fishing has been undertaken within international CCAMLR rules and regulations, and then provide legal catch documents for the catch of Toothfish, which are almost like a passport for Toothfish products.
The catch documents then travel with all legally caught Toothfish products from the point of unloading to the point of sale. "The CCAMLR catch document scheme is one means used to assure customers and the general public that the Toothfish being eaten has been caught legally, within the strictest environmental and fisheries resource management guidelines in the world," Mr Reddell said.
"If it is true that the Viarsa owners and operators have been falsifying satellite position reports to the Uruguayan Government, this would have major ramifications not just for the Uruguayan Government, but for the entire system of monitoring used by CCAMLR.
"Last year, the Uruguayan Government assured CCAMLR members that it was using satellite monitoring systems on a daily basis to track the fishing operations of all Uruguayan licensed Toothfish boats - an international requirement of CCAMLR membership which Uruguay stated it had implemented".
Mr Reddell said COLTO recognises that, if the Viarsa has been fishing illegally around Heard Island, this would have been without the support or knowledge of the Uruguayan Government. That could only mean the boat and its owners may well have been sending false position reports to the Uruguayan Government, which was of serious concern.
"COLTO now strongly renews its call for CCAMLR member nations to introduce a centralised satellite vessel monitoring system as a requirement of CCAMLR licenses and legal fishing for Toothfish". Last year at CCAMLR, Toothfish industry operators offered to pay for the implementation of a centralised Vessel Monitoring System based at the CCAMLR Secretariat. This was a location where industry members believed illegal operators could not tamper with it. At the time, CCAMLR members rejected the offer.
However, with the Viarsa now being found apparently fishing illegally around Heard Island while being monitored by Uruguayan authorities, it clearly demonstrates there is an urgent need for an improved, centralised, satellite vessel monitoring system to be implemented by CCAMLR.
"This will assist Governments like Uruguay in tracking its licensed Toothfish fishing operators, and will help avoid embarrassing events like this has the potential to become", Mr Reddell, COLTO will continue to monitor the situation, and maintain updates on its website.
Manager Media and Public Affairs COLTO
Phone + 61 8 9202 2457
Mobile + 61 (0) 412 005 400