Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Fishing and the Environment

Royal albatross on Campbell Island.

We left Campbell Island on Sunday evening after a two day exploration of the island.  Until the late 20th century there were still sheep, cattle, and rats on the main island – chiefly a legacy of a failed farming venture that lasted from 1895 to 1931 - a comprehensive control programme has seen the island again predator free.  For me the highlight of the visit was seeing the numbers of nesting southern royal albatross and their recently hatched chicks.  For that alone, as well as  the two marvelous days we stayed and explored, I can find no adjectives that can do justice in expressing my enchantment at the magnificent birds, animals, and scenery we saw there.  It truly sheeted home the importance of procedures in our fishing operations that minimise seabird captures and interactions as discussed in previous blogs. As I write we are on our way to the Antipodes Islands and should arrive tomorrow. 

The visit to a predator free area such as Campbell Island highlights an important issue – that is the risk of reintroduction of pest species.  This is why our vessels have regular checks for vermin such as rats and are not allowed near such islands without certification to prove that this has been done.  The boats carry out their own inspections regularly between checks.

Working within the New Zealand 200 mile Economic Zone (NZ-EEZ) there are also comprehensive regulations governing the disposal of rubbish and sewage; oil and bilge-water; and ballast water and hull inspections for unwanted introduced organisms.  Vessels like San Aotea II that  work further south in Antarctic must comply with even stricter protocols.

So how does running a fishing vessel in Antarctic waters differ from anywhere else?  Much of the debate about fishing and other human activities that are carried out in Antarctic waters pivots about words like 'pristine', 'unspoiled', and 'virgin'.  These words summarise important values to many people concerned about Antarctica and the Antarctic environment and appear frequently in debate about these issues.  

Although not strictly accurate (there is a long history of whaling, sealing and human settlement in many parts of Antarctica including the Ross Dependency) the sentiments expressed are important, and need to be recognized in setting the standards for operation within the geographical area managed by CCAMLR (the Convention Area). 

There are specific challenges to vessel operations presented by the extreme climate, low temperatures, remoteness, and unique and precious wildlife.

Those who fish in the area under CCAMLR approval work under a very strict series of Conservation Measures.  These measures govern items as varied as the reporting of incidental catches of invertebrates in order to map vulnerable marine ecosystems, garbage and sewage management, the ban on strapping bands for bait boxes, disposal of fish waste (not allowed south of 60°south latitude) and galley scraps, the discharge of oil or oily water in the Convention area, and the reporting of lost fishing gear.

Seeing the amazing wild life on Campbell Island sheeted
home the importance of good fishing procedures.
New Zealand vessels must also have a permit under the New Zealand Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act (AMLR 1981). This approval is only given after an extensive process of application and evaluation during which, among other things, the suitability of the vessel for the area, crew experience, past performance, and contributions to research and knowledge of the area is assessed.  For example,  New Zealand requires its vessels to be of an appropriate ice classification to work in the Ross Sea, have well trained and experienced crews and have a good history of compliance with all New Zealand and CCAMLR measures.  In a previous blog I detailed the characteristics of vessels that New Zealand considers appropriate for Antarctic conditions.

Unfortunately under the current CCAMLR regime there are no clear minimum standards for the suitability of vessels for the polar environment, crew experience, required safety equipment and required spare equipment.  Recent casualties in the region strongly suggest that a change is needed in this regard. In my opinion the approval of unsuitable vessels by some CCAMLR Members compromises human safety, the Antarctic environment and gives an unfair perception of the activities of more responsible fishing states.
Hopefully this situation can be improved to the positive benefit of the environment, the crews, and the ultimately those who manage the area.

Next blog – Our Far South – values, sustainability, and stewardship.