S.Georgia : South Georgia Fishery: Success and Tragedy
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 28.04.2004 (Current Article)
In this second extensive interview with Patrick Lurcock, the Marine Officer for the 200-Mile South Georgia Fishery Zone, SARTMA has been able to update readers on the progress that the South Georgia fishery has made.
Photo (c) J. Brock (SARTMA - SG)
SOUTH GEORGIA FISHING SEASON: A MIXTURE OF SUCCESS AND TRAGEDY
By J. Brock (SARTMA)
A view of Godthal Bay
In this second extensive interview with Patrick Lurcock, the Marine Officer for the 200-Mile South Georgia Fishery Zone, SARTMA has been able to update readers on the progress that the South Georgia fishery has made. Along with that progress there has been some tragedy, in that two fishing vessel foundered on the rocks at the mouth of Moraine Fjord in Cumberland Bay and have been sitting there for nearly a year, unable to be pulled off.
Another interesting aspect of the fishery is the fact that an allowance is made for stealing resource. At the moment, there is no indication that licence fees are increased because of this poaching, like other businesses, such as retail outlets compensate for shoplifting. It does reflect in the amount of the TAC the Zoneís licence-holders are allowed to catch.
SARTMA: What percentage of the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for each commercial species was taken up during the various fishing seasons around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands? How much was taken?
PL: The fishing year runs from the beginning of December to the end of November Ė thatís how itís organized by CCAMLR (Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). The different fisheries Ė toothfish, krill, icefish, sometimes have limited seasons within that year. For instance the toothfish fishery is only opened between May and August.
The Toothfish TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for 2003 was to 7,810 tonnes, increased from 5,820t in 2002. That is a 34% increase. Of that 7,810 tonne TAC, 7,465 tonnes, or 96%, were actually taken. In the previous year, 95% of the TAC was taken.
Now, these figures for fish caught are the figures taken within the 200-Mile Maritime Zone (MZ). The area that CCAMLR sets a TAC for, statistical area 48.3, extends a little beyond this, into international waters. There is an opportunity for vessels to fish quite legitimately in the area of 48.3 that is in international waters. The Government therefore do not issue licences to cover the entire TAC but have to leave a little for these other vessels. Any vessels that fish in this area report their catches to CCAMLR every few days, so we can find out later on in the season whether we are able to allocate a little more. For instance, if nobody fishes outside the MZ or if the catches there are not as high as expected.
There is always a possibility, of course, that there is IUU (Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported) fishing Ė basically poaching Ė in addition to those vessels that are fishing within the CCAMLR regime. We are very confident that little, if any, of this is going on within the South Georgia MZ. If they are managing to avoid our surveillance, then there are not very many of them and they are not in the zone for very long.
But still, there is a precaution put aside for them taking as well and that is why we donít have the whole 100% of the TAC taken. I am not too sure of the details, but it may be that CCAMLR set the TAC lower than they otherwise might to take into account IUU fishing.
Toothfish is so popular that as many tonnes that are available to be caught, there are fishing companies lined up to buy the TAC and go and catch it. The South Georgia Authorities are pretty sure that it will be bought and taken.
SARTMA: What about the other commercial species?
PL: The next fishery is the Krill. Last year was a very good Krill year and we had a lot more fishing. We had in the region of 65,000 tonnes taken last winter compared to 45,000 tonnes the winter before. That was quite a significant 45% increase in the amount of Krill taken. However, CCAMLR have set a TAC for Krill of 1,056,000 tonnes. Somewhere in the region of 6% of that TAC was taken last year in a very good season. Of the Krill that the biologists worked out that we have, a very small proportion is being taken. If anyone wants to buy a Krill licence, the South Georgia Government will sell them one, as long as they fulfil all the requirements to be able to fish within the CCAMLR scheme.
Conditions are that they have to pay for the licence up front and licence holders have to have a biologist and sometimes a second observer working on bird mortality. The stock assessment work isnít as critical as it is for Toothfish because such a small percentage of the TAC is being taken. This leaves a very large buffer for imperfections in the assessment process and natural fluctuations in the population level. We are not worried about it because while 65,000 tonnes sounds a lot, there is still a lot of Krill out there. We are, of course monitoring it in case things change.
The next fishery is the Mackerel Icefish. Itís a summer fishery and in 2002/03, there were 2,158 tonnes taken compared to 2,647 the year before. The catches werenít very different from year to year, although the TAC did go down from 5,500 to just over 2,000. In fact, the TAC was pretty well taken a year ago. The stock assessment with the Icefish is much more variable from year to year, which is why the Government carries out a groundfish survey and look in a lot more depth as to exactly what fish are there. And, they manage it a lot tighter from year to year.
SARTMA: I understood that in years past, Ice Fish had been fished out. When did they start taking Ice Fish commercially again?
PL: The Icefish was very heavily fished as well as the Marbled Rock Cod, which were fished out in the Ď70s and 80s by huge Soviet fleets. There was a moratorium on the Icefish for many years. CCAMLR said there wasnít much there but they still looked for it. In 1998, a couple of ships were allowed to come, only fished for a week each, and caught 6 tonnes. Then in 1999, one ship came and fished for three weeks, and caught a couple of hundred tonnes. With a low quota set, you can start to collect some commercial catch data to add to the information from research fishing. Once you start commercial fishing and get a biologist out there sampling the fish, you get more data to base a better stock assessment on. That allows you to fine-tune the management. After a couple of years, in 2000, two ships fishing and 2001, there were five ships. In three years, they got a lot of commercial data as well as the biological data and the surveys that the ships are doing. There was a lot of data and CCAMLR were able to allocate more. In 2003, it was reduced to three ships. In fact, the season that we just completed, over January and February this year, we had more ships Ė about five or six ships. The TAC was set to nearly 3,000 tonnes. The TAC had been a bit higher in pervious years, lower last year and then back up a bit this year, so it does fluctuate a bit from year to year. As with all the fisheries, CCAMLR set the TACs quite conservatively to allow for variability in stocks that would fluctuate anyway and for imperfections in the stock assessment process
SARTMA: What is the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands doing to ensure that there is less seabird mortality on licensed vessels?
PL: Each icefish vessel is given a limit of 20 birds as well as a TAC for fish., we have an observer onboard each ship working with the Captains and looking at bird mortality. The Captain has to report to us any birds that he catches and kills. If the ship catches 20 birds, then it has to stop fishing, regardless of how much of their TAC has been taken. One icefish vessel had to stop this season because of this. As well as a fish biologist, we put a second observer one each trawler to check for bird mortality and to work with the Captain to develop effective mitigation measures.
SARTMA: Will the income from the Toothfish Fishery, as well as the others, be enough, eventually, to pay the costs of removing the Asbestos from Grytviken?
PL: The costs have been paid already. The South Georgia Government had built up some reserves over the last few years. In essence, those reserves have been pretty well wiped out by this project.
SARTMA: Now the bill has been paid, then, I take it, money will again be slated for the reserves?
PL: Most of the fisheries money that comes in, approximately three quarters of the licence income, goes immediately into fishery protection, stock assessment work and administration for the fishery. So, there really is not a great deal of money left over for other projects.
SARTMA: What is the licensing policy if one vessel, for one reason or another does not reach their full quota.
PL: Companies get the opportunity to specify how much TAC they want, though there is no TAC for krill as that does not need rationing at the moment. A bigger fishing ship might buy 400 tonnes worth and a smaller fishing ship may only buy 200 tonnes. Occasionally we get a vessel that doesnít reach their complete TAC. In that case it does have the opportunity to transfer the surplus to a ship that wants some more TAC. The Government may bay back unused TAC if they can sell it on to another vessel.
The Lyn and No. 1 Moresko were the two ships that ran aground last year. They turned up having paid for licenses, but ran aground before they started fishing. The TAC that had been allocated to those vessels was re-allocated to other ships from the same companies.
The Director of Fisheries makes sure that there is not a chance of allocating so much TAC that more fish could be taken than is available. This is good for companies because they know if they have got a TAC of 400 tonnes, they are not going to get turned away after catching 300 tonnes. This helps them make a better business decision about whether to fish or not.
SARTMA: It is understood that the Toothfish season can be shortened due to concerns about breeding birds being ensnared in the long-lines. Has this happen in the fishery?
PL: Over the southern summer there are a lot of birds nesting, raising young and flying out to sea to feed in the area around South Georgia. In the early Ď90s when the Maritime Zone was first set up, ships were fishing with long-lines any time of the year. They were catching lots of birds. One of the things that CCAMLR recognized then was that we had a lot of breeding birds around in the summer so in the mid Ď90s the season was closed during the summer. In 1995, the season started on the 1st of March in order to give most bird species a chance to finish breeding and go away. Over the next few years, the season was put back and by 1997 the longlining season didnít start until the 1st of April. We had feedback from the ships, from the observers, that the ships were still catching birds so since 1999, the season has started on the 1st of May.
Last year we tried an experiment with one vessel that had already built a good record of bird mitigation and it was allowed to start fishing two weeks earlier than the beginning of May. But we gave them a very strict three bird limit to see whether it is possible, with the mitigation measures we have in place now, to start fishing earlier because fishing through the winter isnít particularly pleasant. If the ships could fish earlier in the year, they would be happier. But the ship caught three birds and had to stop fishing and sat and waited until the 1st of May and started fishing again with no problem.
To me, it looks for now as though the 1st of May is going to be the start date unless some better technology comes up. Fishing with pots has been tried a couple of times. Because the bait is in a pot and dropped over the side, there isnít a problem with seabirds but itís not as efficient.
We have done all we can to alter the start dates but there are still Albatross species that feed their young right through the winter. Luckily the larger birds are easier to mitigate against though White Chinned Petrels, which are smaller, can dive deeper and get around all the streamer lines. By the 1st of May, they have finished breeding and have gone. The large Albatross tend to stay nearer the surface and itís easier to stop them taking the bait. White Chinned Petrels are now protected because fishing takes place later in the winter. The mitigating measures taking place are working well with the Albatross. Last year, across the whole fishery, I believe, just three Albatross were killed by long-line fishing in the South Georgia Maritime Zone. The same numbers were killed the year before.
SARTMA: No doubt every technique available has been used to re-float the Lyn and the No. 1 Moresko. However, these efforts were unsuccessful. Would the presence of a sea-going tug like the Typhoon or similar have been successful in re-floating these vessels soon after grounding?
PL: The Typhoon was here, in fact, within a week and was unable to do anything for either ship. There was then another tug organized later on Ė the Calafate Ė from Chile. She came with a team of salvage divers. And, they came with the intention of patching up the holes, then pumping off the fuel from the Lyn and taking it away. Unfortunately, the way she way lying, it was too dangerous an operation and it couldnít be done. Instead they spent nearly two months here and pumped as much fuel off her as they could, which was almost all of it. They removed a lot of fishing materials like miles and miles of floating rope and took off other potential pollutants like plastic sheeting, hooks, paint, batteries and left the ship very clean.
By the time they had arrived, No. 1 Moresko was already breaking up. She broke up very quickly and lost a lot of equipment into the water, such as thousands of polypropylene sacks that had been stored on deck and miles of rope that washed off into the sea. Fortunately, almost all of the rope remained attached to the ship, so by the time Calafate arrived here, the divers, who worked in incredibly arduous conditions, were able to retrieve a lot of rope. I am pretty confident that not much rope actually disappeared in the end. The Lyn was a much more substantial vessel and didnít break up.
The owners and insurers paid for the operation. The ships both went aground and it was dark. There were already quite a few long-liners around that already tried to free Lyn from the rocks. They tried unsuccessfully to tow her off within a day. In a couple of days, some bigger ships with more pulling power Ė Jacqueline and the Fishery Protection Vessel, Sigma went out and had a really strong tug and werenít able to get her off. Subsequently, the diversí inspection underneath showed that if a much stronger tug had tried to pull the Lyn off, it would have just ripped her bottom open. Itís just as well there wasnít a tug here able to do that.
SARTMA: Are there any plans to lease or buy an appropriate vessel for South Georgia should the same thing happen in the future? Would it be viable?
PL: I doubt it very much. It would be very expensive to charter a ship like that at thousands of pounds per day. I am rather hoping that was a one-off event and we are not going to have ships running up on the rocks. With a bit of luck, having the Lyn still visible there, she will be a visible reminder to all the other Captains coming in to be careful about navigating and keeping an eye on their charts and compasses and make every effort to see where they are. With modern technology, there is no excuse. The charting is accurate in here and all ships have GPS and they know within a few meters where they should be. They have radar and they can see how close the shore is Ė the rocks even if the visibility is not good. If they are not confident, there is a big ocean out there where they can go and wait until the weather is better.
SARTMA: I would imagine that the storm was so severe that no matter what equipment they had onboard the two vessels, it wasnít sufficient to keep them off the rocks.
PL: By the time they went up on the rocks, the storm had abated a lot. I donít believe that they were pushed on by bad weather. They werenít here because of the bad weather, they were here to be inspected and to collect their licenses. We hadnít been able to get out during the day in our launch because of the bad weather. In fact, as you know, we had a third vessel that had been anchored in the cove overnight the night before. She was pushed up on the beach near the generator shed. That was very strong winds of 70 or 80 knots at least. She dragged her anchor across and ended up here on the beach. She managed to get herself off the beach later on in the afternoon when the wind died down. I donít believe that the winds would have been so strong that the ships were driven in that way. I suspect that one of the vessels didnít watch what it was doing. One also wonders if the other vessel saw the lights and thought that it was a good place to go and anchor instead of checking their own charts, plotters and navigational equipment. Thatís just a guess. It must have been human error because none of them reported any engine problems or problems with their navigation gear. They certainly had sufficient navigation equipment on board, and the qualified and experienced officers to use it.
SARTMA: Presumably all of the marine fuel and other environmental contaminants have been removed from both ships. Are they going to rust away in situ or are there plans to salvage the hulks?
PL: As much as possible has been removed now. The Lyn, because she didnít break up for a long time, had a lot of stuff removed from her. There was a little bit of equipment in the deeper holds that they couldnít get at and no one will be able to. No. 1 Moresko broke up so quickly and the stuff lashed on deck got away quickly. A lot of the hats, gloves, boots, etc. disappeared into the water. After Calafate left, later on in the winter, another tug, Luma came with a different crew of people and spent three weeks here. They put groups of people ashore all around Cumberland Bay, gathering up the waste that had washed ashore. They got lots of the sacks and all sorts of other debris.
There have been reports of items being found further up and down the Island, particularly the sacks in one or two places have been found washed ashore. But we are not getting many stories from the cruise ships.
One good thing is that the CCAMLR Conservation Measures prohibit vessels from having plastic banding to hold their boxes of frozen bait together. We do know that all the bait that went hasnít released thousands of loops of banding. Banding can be a problem to Fur Seals as they swim through the loops, which then stay around their necks, cutting in and eventually killing them.
The hulls will stay there as far as I know. No 1 Moresko has broken up into three or four pieces. Lyn has heeled right over. When we get a high tide and a good swell, she tips over a bit further. I canít see that anyone would come and take her away. They had two good attempts at least and they couldnít re-float her and tow her away. If it could be done, they would have done it. The longer she is there, the less economical it would be to salvage her. The second best option was to clean the wreck out as much as possible.
There are some people who would say there is one more wreck and that is part of the spirit of the place. Like the Falklands, they will line the harbor and eventually will become interesting as historic artifacts.
SARTMA: How are survey results applied to fisheries policy?
PL: All the research thatís done by Britain and by every nation around the world on Antarctic fish all feeds into CCAMLR, who do the whole stock assessment work. The results of the survey will be used.
SARTMA: From all of this research, is there a better idea about how much krill there are in CCAMLR area 48 as a whole?
PL: Yes. Thatís why itís done.
SARTMA: Is the TAC for Krill still the same as last year?
PL: Yes. It hasnít changed for quite a few years. Itís set very conservatively in the first place. Because there is so little Krill taken out compared to the TAC, CCAMLR are not worried. They are monitoring it but it is not impacting too much on the stock.
SARTMA: Which research vessels have been doing research in CCAMLR area 48?
PL: Certainly the James Clark Ross and the Dorada, which is funded by the South Georgia Government. In previous years we have had the Atlantida, which is Russian, working in the area. There may well be other research going on that I donít know about.
SARTMA: What stocks are these vessels researching?
PL: Certainly Ice Fish, Krill and Toothfish and quite likely other stocks too.
SARTMA: Is there potential for a new, viable fishery?
PL: It was as a result of the research work that it was identified that the Icefish had recovered to a level where it could be commercially fished. Itís not necessarily a new viable fishery but when they started taking Ice Fish again, itís because they had been doing research before and established that it was viable again.
SARTMA: If there is a research policy, what are the parameters?
PL: They certainly need to submit to CCAMLR in advance what they intend to do and whether the South Georgia Government puts any restrictions on the research. I doubt it very much.
The South Georgia and South Sandwich Maritime Zones remain one of the worldís best-managed fisheries. Though the management is superb, the area is dangerous and even some of the best-trained seamen, if they donít pay attention to their craft, can find their vessels floundering on the rocks. Fortunately, last yearís tragedy did not result in the loss of life.
Excellent management speaks for itself. One stock, Ice Fish, was thought to be commercially extinct prior to the set up of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Maritime Zones. And now, because of the wise management of the zones, it has come back to be commercially viable again.
In past years there had been concerns about taking Krill for human consumption. Thanks to the on-going research effort and the TAC set by CCAMLR, as well as the limited market, there is no present danger of over-fishing Krill.
(100X Transcription Service)