Gore’s message loses bite

By | July 22, 2007

Gore and his guests at the weekend ceremony dined on Chilean sea bass – arguably one of the world's most threatened fish species.

Also known as Patagonian toothfish, the species is under pressure from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities in the Southern Ocean, jeopardising the sustainability of remaining stocks.

The species is currently managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources, the body which introduced a catch and trade documentation scheme as an attempt to tackle illegal poaching of this species.

Working with non-government organisations, the Humane Society International's focus is now on pursuit of illegal fishing operators who, in the rush to cash in on the highly valued species, plunder stocks with no regard for sustainability.

It has been estimated that more than 50 per cent of toothfish traded is illegally caught, and includes juveniles vital to the ongoing toothfish population.

For many years HSI has expressed concern over the huge numbers of seabirds that die each year on the hooks of illegally set demersal longlines, threatening the long-term viability of those populations.

Yet, while legal operators in the Southern Ocean are obliged to follow strict environmental rules, illegal operators undermine the sustainability of their fishing operations.

Recently, HSI petitioned the US Government asking that they certify and sanction Spain for allowing Spanish nationals known to engage in pirate fishing operations to continue to harvest toothfish in a declared conservation area.

Success would allow the US Government to embargo Spanish toothfish imports until such time as Spain demonstrates compliance of its nationals with international law and agreements.

As we await a response from the US, thousands of endangered seabirds die, while the sustainability of the Patagonian toothfish and the legal fishing industry inches closer to the brink of extinction.

A strong and concerted effort by Governments, the fishing industry, the conservation community and by the public which drives consumer demand, is required to put an end to pirate fishing operations in the Southern Ocean – otherwise the ecological sustainability of the toothfish is at risk.

And Al Gore could choose something else to eat.


* Rebecca Keeble is program manager for Humane Society International.