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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Hon. Mark Vaile MP
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


6 November 1998

The Federal government has secured international support for increased action against illegal fishing in Antarctic waters, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robert Hill, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mark Vaile, announced today.

"We are pleased that the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which has been meeting in Hobart during the past two weeks, has adopted a number of Australian proposals to help stop illegal fishing around the Antarctic continent," Senator Hill said.

"The high levels of illegal fishing pose a real threat to the Patagonian toothfish. Illegal fishing is also responsible for the death of large numbers of sea birds, including endangered albatross.

"In the lead up to and during this year's meeting of CCAMLR, we have made it quite clear that unless the international community turned rhetoric into action, the problem would only get worse.

"We therefore welcome CCAMLR's decision to back Australian proposals to make the use of satellite-linked vessel monitoring systems mandatory, to increase reporting of potentially illegal vessels, to improve CCAMLR's vessel register and to tighten licensing and port access controls.

"While CCAMLR has taken a number of positive steps, we are however, extremely disappointed that the Commission has deferred decisions on Australia's proposal for a catch certification scheme for trade in Patagonian toothfish and has set the start-up date for mandatory vessel monitoring systems at the end of 2000.

"In many areas, illegal fishing is occurring at such a rate that local toothfish populations are under immediate pressure. Countries represented at CCAMLR must realise that time is not on our side.

"Australia will pursue the trade certification scheme at a special meeting that this week's meeting of CCAMLR has agreed to convene early in 1999 to further investigate the scheme. We will also seek an earlier date for the introduction of mandatory vessel monitoring systems at next year's CCAMLR meeting.

"If it appears that CCAMLR is not prepared to move on these matters, Australia will seek the involvement of ministers at next year's full meeting of CCAMLR. We will also assess a role for other international fora such as the CITES convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Mr Vaile said that illegal fishing was an issue that united both Australia's fishing community and conservationists.

"Illegal fishing not only affects the vulnerable environment of Antarctic waters but ultimately the livelihoods of those fishing operators that are abiding by the rules," Mr Vaile said.

"Australia has shown that it is committed to implementing the decisions of CCAMLR in Australian waters. In many areas our standards are, in fact, higher than those adopted internationally.

"We already require vessels to use vessel monitoring systems and limit the number of Australian licensed fishing vessels to a maximum of two and require strict waste disposal measures. We also impose stringent measures to prevent by-catch and the death of sea birds.

"We will also continue to pursue illegal operators that enter Australian waters.

"I was pleased that CCAMLR members commended Australia for its strong naval action to apprehend foreign fishing vessels allegedly operating illegally in our waters around Heard Island and the McDonald Islands.

"Our enforcement and surveillance efforts will be increased by the commitment we have made to provide just under $16 million over four years to boost surveillance operations," Mr Vaile said.

For further information:
Tony Press (Director, Australian Antarctic Division) 0419 698 970
Trent Zimmerman (Senator Hill's office) 02 6277 7640
Alison Penfold (Mr Vaile's office) 0408 633 026

Commonwealth of Australia