Recommendations have been made regarding the South Georgia Toothfish fishery by two senior scientists who have conducted an independent review, however they stressed to the Falklands Penguin News that the fishery was the best managed in the world.
Dr Stuart Hanchet and Dr Dirk Welsford were invited to the Islands by Chief Executive and Director of Fisheries Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Dr Martin Collins in advance of the South Georgia Government Toothfish fishery's next assessment by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) this year.
The fishery was certified in 2004 and 2009 and Dr Collins said: The requirements have changed a little bit for the MSC and one of the things it was suggested we did was have this external review and that's why we brought in Dirk and Stewart who are experts from Australia and New Zealand to look at what we are doing and just see if it comes up to scratch.
Dr Hanchet said: We are making recommendations on how things can be improved and things can always be improved but generally speaking it is one of the best managed toothfish fisheries in the world and probably one of the best managed fisheries in the world.
Dr Welsford added that it had already survived CCAMLR's (Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) vigorous review process, 26 members have to agree by consensus that it can go ahead, so it certainly has plenty of oversight in terms of international review and people ensuring it is best practice in terms of fisheries management.
The review by the two scientists has generally followed the three main parts of the MSC certification. The first comprises general day to day management, how you allocate quota, how you decide which vessels will be in the fishery, said Dr Hanchet. Stock assessment was also examined, how you monitor the size of the Toothfish population and ensure sustainable catch levels are set, and thirdly, looking at the ecosystem and the effects of fishing, what impact is the fishing having on by-catch species, also aspects such as bottom fishing, whether it is having any impact on the benthos, or catching seabirds.
The pair have primarily spoken to Dr Collins about the management of the fishery however they have also interacted with both, skippers and fisheries officers, said Dr Welsford.
He said Dr Collins, explained all about the compliance work that they do at sea, the inspections of the vessels to make sure they are complying with all the management measures and also port inspections, someone looking over their shoulder the whole time to make sure they are doing the right thing and fishing in the right spot.
He said the South Georgia Government (relatively speaking) also had the convenience of being right next to the fishery grounds, which is something not everybody in the southern ocean has, the other big fisheries for example the Ross Sea is miles from anywhere so it is much harder to make sure that all vessels are complying.
Those areas must make use of other systems such as overflying or satellite monitoring.
Also in South Georgia all vessels have observers on board, which is almost unique in fisheries around the world, said Dr Welsford, ever since the CCAMLR fishery began there's always been an independent observer on board that measures the catch so you really have comprehensive information about what the fishery has been catching.
Dr Hanchet said they had had the opportunity to talk to fisheries officers about their vessel monitoring system and to the stock assessment scientists, involved in carrying out stock assessment and also involved in the ecosystem effects of fishing aspect of the work; so we talked to a range of people.
The pair were given a great deal of information in advance and viewed presentations on arrival before embarking on , dialogue with the people involved and drilling into the detail where we felt the need, said Dr Welsford.
Recommendations made by the pair centre primarily around uncertainties in relation to stock assessment and how to better monitor both juvenile and adult fish.
They also made a recommendation with regard to putting documentation in place, that ensures that everybody knows what the standards are, why they were developed that way and how to maintain them into the future, after all if Dr Collins heads off to warmer climes, one day said Dr Welsford, it was important that the high standard was maintained.
Conveniently much of that important documentation has been gathered together for this very review he explained.
The report has now been presented to Dr Collins who is keen to put much in place, although not all would be possible in the short term he cautioned.
The pair also appreciated the opportunity to take a look at the Falkland Islands Toothfish fishery.
The latter does not come within the CCAMLR remit so there are elements they were familiar with and other parts they were not. The Falklands Toothfish fishery is also MSC certified and Dr Welsford said he was very interested in the process of how the Patagonian Toothfish fishery story had gone from being seen as, caught by pirates and killing albatrosses to now being one of the fisheries where the great majority of the catch that is taken is MSC certified.
He said there had been many markets in the USA that had, previously refused to take it and now they recognise the long hard work that has been done to solve the problem of bird by-catch and illegal fishing.
This had been the combined work of scientists, governments and the industry he said. The pair leave the Islands on June 28. (Penguin News)