Never Mind The Whales, Who Will Save The Toothfish From Poachers?

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Australian environment minister, Greg Hunt, is copping it today for what anti-whaling activists say is a broken election promise: to send a customs ship to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean this summer.

But there may be bigger economic implications for Australian fishers in the Southern Ocean amid another broken promise from the Abbott Government.

In recent years, Austral Fisheries has invested heavily in gaining Marine Stewardship Council certification to sustainably catch patagonian toothfish off Heard and Macquarie Islands.

The luxury fish, which has twice the fat content of salmon, sells for around $100 a kilo to top Australian restaurants and is used by the likes of Neil Perry at his Rockpool restaurants.

The previous Coalition Government demonstrated in was tough on poachers when in 2003, the Customs fisheries patrol boat, Southern Supporter, chased a Uruguayan-flagged boat all the way to South Africa and the crew was flown to Australia to face charges of illegally fishing for Patagonian toothfish.

AFMA’s Fisheries Operations General Manager Peter Venslovas said illegal fishing activities seriously undermined the sustainability of fisheries.

There’s no doubt that the Government’s decision today will be a blow to Austral and its ilk.

Thunder’s illegal $60 million haul

Illegal fishing is a continued risk and Interpol is currently on the hunt for a boat they believe is currently in the Southern Ocean and is said to have stolen more than $60 million worth of fish.

The boat, currently believed to be called ‘Thunder’, has operated under at least three different names and several flags, in the last two years in an effort to avoid detection for illegal fishing.

Before the election, the Coalition promised that the purpose-built Ocean Protector would be “devoted to patrolling illegal foreign fishing are not diverted to other activities”, but the vessel is currently deployed as part of the Government’s asylum seeker policy, Operation Sovereign Borders off Christmas Island.

Meanwhile, a joint effort, led by New Zealand, with support from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, is currently underway to find the boat, which has been spotted in Malaysia and Indonesia this year, changing its name from ‘Wuhan 4’ to ‘Thunder’ and sailing under the Nigerian flag.

Interpol has issued a “Purple Notice” to its 190 member countries as it hunts for the illegal fishing boat. It was blacklisted in 2006 by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources but authorities suspect it has earned more than US$60 million since then.

* Correction: The original post read. “AFMA’s Fisheries Operations General Manager Peter Venslovas said illegal fishing activities seriously undermine the sustainability of fisheries, and there’s no doubt that the Government’s decision today will be a blow to Austral and its ilk.

Business Insider did not intend to imply that Mr Venslovas made any comments on the Government’s decision and the story was changed accordingly on January 21.

Now watch fisherman catch patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean

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