A two week international meeting on piracy in the Southern Ocean, held in Hobart, Tasmania, ended on a disappointing note for its hosts after proposals for tighter controls against poaching were vetoed.
The 24 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) were meeting to discuss more effective methods of controlling illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. Decisions by the commission are made by consensus only, meaning that it only takes one country to veto a proposal.
Various members - for different reasons - threw out a number of proposals put forward.
The leader of the Australian delegation to the commission, Dr Tony Press, said that his team was very disappointed that many of the proposals had been blocked, reports The Age.
The issue of illegal fishing had been brought to the public's attention recently by the highly-publicised chase of the alleged illegal fishing vessel, the Viarsa.
Despite the disappointment of Australia's delegation, the Fisheries minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, welcomed the outcome of the talks. He said that he was delighted with the steps taken by the 24 CCAMLR member nations to address illegal fishing in Antarctic waters.
"Australia's action in pursuing the Viarsa 1 has hardened world opinion against illegal operators, and has led to significant new initiatives that will put illegal operations under substantial pressure," Senator Macdonald said in a statement.
One successful proposal, despite Russia's reluctance, is the creation of a blacklist of vessels caught fishing illegally. All 24 member nations have agreed not to deal in Patagonian toothfish offered by any of the boats that are blacklisted.
Currently there are only 10 names on the list, although legal fishermen said that the real number of poachers is nearer 40. This is partly due to the fact that Russia has refused to allow any of its vessels to be blacklisted, on the grounds that if a boat has been caught for poaching, it will no longer be allowed to fish. Uruguay did not raise any objections to the blacklist despite the fact that several of its boats have been mentioned on the list.
Australia is believed to be gravely concerned about the Russian stance on the matter, especially as it is rumoured that President Vladimir Putin has high ambitions for his country's expanding fishing industry.
A major disappointment was the blocking by Argentina of the proposal to set up a 'black box' monitoring system, which would allow positions of all licensed fishing vessels in the region to be known at all times. Argentina - because of the old dispute over the Falklands/Malvinas - is reluctant for the UK to have access to sensitive information, and therefore vetoed the scheme. However, a trial system has been allowed to go ahead.
The monitoring system will be tested by boats from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay and Argentina. Other countries, including the European Union, are still considering participating in the trials, according to fisheries minister Senator Ian Macdonald.
The commission also agreed to continue a trial of an electronic catch documentation scheme.
Senator Macdonald said that he was looking forward to cooperative action in the future against illegal fishing vessels.
"I'm confident that the CCAMLR nations will build upon this very positive start, and I look forward to working cooperatively to rid the planet of the criminal gangs that put personal profit before the future of our marine eco systems, and the sovereignty of nations of the world."