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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 10:12 GMT
Australia arms toothfish patrol
Patagonian Toothfish on slab (image: Caroline Raymakers)
The Patagonian Toothfish is sold in restaurants as Chilean sea bass
Australia is to send an armed ship to patrol its southern waters to prevent poachers from catching the endangered Patagonian toothfish.

Customs officers on board the icebreaking vessel will be armed and will also have a deck-mounted machine gun.

The ship will guard Australian waters near Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, which lie between Australia and Antarctica.

"There are strong links suggesting organised international criminal involvement in toothfish poaching," said the Australian Fisheries Minister, Ian MacDonald.

"The introduction of a permanent, armed patrol capability significantly increases the risk of detection and prosecution," he said.

The popularity of the Patagonian toothfish has soared in Japanese and American restaurants in recent years, where it is sold under the name of Chilean sea bass.

It can fetch over $35 a kilogramme, and poachers are thought to take more than four times the amount of toothfish caught legally.

Many fear over-fishing has pushed the species to the brink of extinction.

The Australian government vowed to crack down on the poachers after a 6,000 kilometre chase in August involving a Uruguayan boat caught fishing in Australian waters.

Australian and South African officials boarded the suspected poachers' boat off Cape Town and seized 85 metric tons of Patagonian toothfish

The case is still in court.

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28 Aug 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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22 Aug 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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18 Aug 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Toothfish at risk from illegal catches
15 Aug 01  |  Science/Nature
High-seas chase nets fish poachers
13 Apr 01  |  Asia-Pacific

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