Unsupervised and illegal fishing in the surrounding waters of Antarctica has become a growing concern. Contrary to controlled fishing, illegal fishing does not discriminate between seasons or amount, which means illegal fishermen can fish whenever, wherever and whatever quantity that they please. On the other hand, controlled fishing does take into consideration certain social and biological parameters to avoid the alarming decrease of animal populations and destruction of the ecosystem.

When fishing parameters are not complied with, the ecosystem suffers the consequences: overfishing a certain species of the food chain decreases its population, which leads to a lack of nourishment for the species who predated on it. In consequence, the populations of these predators decrease as well. This cycle goes on until the negative effects reach the top of the chain.

The UN considers fishing to be illegal when it falls into any of the next categories:

  • Conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, without the permission of that State, or in contravention of its laws and regulations.
  • Conducted by vessels flying the flag of States that are parties to a relevant regional fisheries management organization but operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures adopted by that organization and by which the States are bound, or relevant provisions of the applicable international law; or
  • In violation of national laws or international obligations, including those undertaken by cooperating States to a relevant regional fisheries management organization.

Illegal fishing also:

  • Economically damages the fisheries sector whose activities are conducted under the legal and economic framework of responsible administration concerned about sustainable and balanced development between food security and environmental protection.
  • Creates situations of disloyal competition between international markets, since there exists those who have to endure a higher exploitation cost for complying with the established conducts, compared to those who do not have this costs since they dismiss this code of conduct.
  • Creates an insecure environment for the workers on the ships, where they have no job security or security per se, since this ships avoid any type of work standards and of human life security on the sea.

The battle against illegal fishing in the Austral Ocean dates back to 1997 when the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources dictated measurements to be taken when fishing, due to the notorious effect of overfishing on the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni ).

The Antarctic toothfish is the species who is most affected by illegal fishing due to its high prices in markets. Antarctic toothfish are harvested through trawling, a process where a net is towed behind a boat for short periods of time. Trawling captures everything that gets in the net’s way, capturing any kind of fish, and even different types of animals. For example, albatross dive into the water to catch the bait used to lure the toothfish and drown when they cannot escape from the netting.

On the other hand, biologists think that krill may suffer from the same consequences as the Antarctic toothfish due to its great demand on the world market. It is of great importance to stress the preservation of krill since it is the base of the food chain of Antarctica’s fauna. Contrary to fishing Antarctic toothfish, a relatively big-size ship is needed to fish krill, which fortunately makes it harder for illegal krill fishing to take place. However, it is still necessary to control effectively the amount of krill that arrives in each ship to the ports and that the values given by the ships are the correct ones.

The ships that are allowed to fish are controlled in real-time, when possible. A fishing limit is established for each species, balancing the “rational use” and the conservation of the ecosystem. There exists a code of conduct where 170 countries (members of the UN) approved, about the indications for sustainable fishing:

“Countries should adopt procedures, such as inspecting foreign fishing vessels when they enter their ports, except in cases when a vessel is in port because of emergency, to assist in ensuring that the vessel has fished responsibly. Port countries should cooperate with the country where the vessel is registered (the flag country) when the flag country requests assistance to investigate possible infringements by its vessels.” -Extract from FAO’s code of conduct

Program Objectives:

  • To inform the general public about illegal fishing in Antarctica and its consequences.
  • To demand that governments apply fishing controls in ports as stipulated by the FAO.
  • To demand the control by the fishing industry and the organizations involved of the following initiatives:
    • Locate GPS trackers on every approved-ship to follow their course.
    • Organize surprise check-ups on the ports to corroborate that the controls are done correctly.
    • Send “Sustainable fishing ambassadors” on approved-ships to control their activities.
    • Create a platform to alert about illegal fishing sightings so they can be taken to justice.