The Deputy Commissioner for South Georgia, Miss Harriet Hall yesterday told listeners to the Falkland Islands Radio Service that one of the exciting features of the new toothfish season, which had just begun, was that there was a vessel licensed to carry out some trials of pot fishing.
Pot fishing, is a method of fishing for toothfish, which is considered very environmentally friendly in that it involves no hooks and therefore brings with it no risk of incidental seabird mortality. Miss Hall said that although this method had never worked before in South Georgia, the company involved was convinced that they had overcome previous difficulties and would be successful.
The success of this method, which was being applied globally by many fishing companies in place of long lining, would have beneficial implications for South Georgia, said Miss Hall. At present ships could only be licensed to fish during the winter when the seabird presence was minimal. If there were no risk to seabirds, fishing in the South Georgia conservation zone could be carried out on a year-round basis. The year-round presence of authorised fishing vessels would help limit the problem of out of season illegal fishing.
Miss Hall continued that the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) were always concerned about the possibility of poaching within their conservation zone and took a very strong stand against it. This was demonstrated last year by the scuttling of the fishing vessel Elqui after it had been convicted of illegal fishing.
The Deputy Commissioner said that she thought that at the moment the GSGSSI did not have a problem, but that was only because of its strong stand and constant vigilance.
Asked about the level of income the South Georgia Government received from the fishery, Miss Hall said that it was difficult to predict from one year to the next what the income level would be. There were fixed quotas for the toothfish catch in the South Georgia conservation zone, which were set by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in November of each year.
This year the GSGSSI was expecting an income from the fishery of about three million pounds, none of which would be profit, once the costs of patrolling, administration, scientific research and scientific observers on every vessel had been subtracted. "It's a very expensive business running a toothfish fishery," said Miss Hall.
One of the benefits of fishing for toothfish, as opposed, for example, to the Ilex squid, is that it was a very long-lived species and not migratory. This enabled sustainable catch levels to be predicted on a much longer basis, Miss hall opined. The catch level for this season is 3,500 tonnes and it is expected that it will stay at roughly that level for the foreseeable future.
In June, July or August, at the end of the current toothfish season, as during the last two, all the catch will be brought to Stanley for weight checking.
Reweighing the catch and checking against the ships' own catch records, said the Deputy Commissioner, is an important way of controlling how much fish is being taken. It also requires the ships to return to Stanley, during which time they could bunker, replenish stores and take on water. This, plus the need for stevedoring, not only brought economic opportunities to the Falklands in the winter, but also reinforced the historical links between the two islands.
John Fowler (Mercopress) Stanley