Confidence that the Falklands fishery would recover following last year's sensational collapse has been confirmed.
Last years total Illex catch hit an all-time low of just 13,380 tons. Although the Illex season is being closed on 31st May, two weeks earlier than scheduled, a 'most acceptable' total seasonal catch of 103,000 tons has been reported by the Director of Fisheries John Barton. 'This presents a significant recovery after a fairly disastrous 2002. It was not as high as some previous years but most encouraging nevertheless' said Mr. Barton. He added, 'The results this season will have helped to restore confidence, but we are still facing difficulties. We need additional conservation measures to protect the fishery in the South West Atlantic'
120 vessels were licenced to operate in the Falklands zone this season.
Some small refunds to fishing companies will be paid by the Falkland Islands Government, to compensate for the slightly early closure.
A total income of around £12 and half millions ($US 20 millions) represents a most acceptable level of revenue for the Falklands Government. The normal annual income from Illex is around £14-15 millions.
'We are closing the season slightly earlier than anticipated so that we can try and ensure with the Argentine fishery, that we have 40,000 tons of Illex remaining in June and July for the spawning stock bio-mass', said John Barton. However Mr. Barton stressed that considerably more effort should be made to ensure that the bio-mass remains at an acceptable level for both Countries.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC), which involves both Argentina and the Falklands, has not met for nearly a year. The Argentine Government called off a meeting planned for last November and which was re-scheduled for earlier this year. 'It is vital that we meet again very soon and that we agree a policy to protect the young Illex squid while it is maturing early in the season. International law allows regional management, and this was reinforced by the 1999 Joint Statement which was signed by the Argentine, British and Falklands Government', said Mr. Barton.
Poaching which was rife in 2000 is now virtually non-existent, since a weapon was placed on a patrol vessel. It was used extensively during the arrest of one vessel, in the following year.
A planned shortened Loligo (Calamares) season also proved to be quite successful. 18,000 tons of squid was caught by 16 vessels between 1st March and mid-April, representing an income of £4 millions to the Falklands Government.
Most of the Loligo is sent to Vigo in Spain, and then sold all over Europe.
'We had a better catch rate during the 6 weeks season this year, than we did for the 4 months of last year', said John Barton.
Patrick Watts (MP) Stanley.