Although all eyes will be set in the trial and exemplary measures Australia has promised for the Uruguayan flagged longliner and alleged poacher of Patagonian toothfish, Viarsa 1, actually the future of Uruguay's toothfish industry will be decided in mid month in Tasmania.
After having been escorted for almost a month by an Australian Fisheries patrol vessel, "Viarsa 1" last Friday finally reached Fremantle. The Canberra government has seven days to press charges against the captain, officers and owners of the longliner for having supposedly illegally caught in Australian waters, 85 tons of toothfish with a market value of a million US dollars.
The "Viarsa 1" is also accused of refusing to be inspected in the high seas and had to be chased for several weeks before it was arrested by combined fisheries patrol vessels from Australia, South African and Falklands.
However the big test for Uruguay's diplomacy will occur at mid October when the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR convenes in Hobart, Tasmania for its annual meeting and the South American country runs the risk of having its share of the annual toothfish TAC considerably reduced or suspended.
Uruguayan reliable diplomatic and fisheries sources indicated that there's concern about a growing "adverse" consensus against Uruguay in CCAMLR.
Uruguay became a full member of Camelar in 1996 after acting eleven years as observer and has since significantly increased its catches of toothfish. But Uruguayan flagged vessels have repeatedly been accused of illegal fishing and according to Martin Exel from COLTO, a coalition of legal fishers of toothfish, "Viarsa 1" belongs to the same company that owned "Dorita" and "Arvisa 1" caught by the French Navy when illegally fishing in the Indian Ocean French jurisdiction.
Australian Justice and Fisheries ministers Chris Elisson and Ian Macdonald, together with Uruguayan Ambassador in Canberra Pedro Amoro were present at the arrival of "Viarsa 1" in Fremantle.
Uruguayan authorities have announced that an investigation into possible "irregularities" committed by the "Viarsa 1" are also being conducted in Montevideo, particularly to determine if the Captain passed false information regarding the vessel's correct position and if the communication system had collapsed as he later reported.