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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 05:05 GMT


Sci/Tech

Fears for Antarctic fish

Albatrosses are falling victim to the pirates (Photo: Greenpeace/Grace)

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Greenpeace campaigners have enlisted the support of one of the UK's leading supermarket chains, Tesco, in their attempts to protect a species of Antarctic fish.


The BBC's Khalid Javed: "It could be extinct within two years"
The species is known by several names, including the Patagonian toothfish, the black hake and the Antarctic sea bass. It is sold in the US - where two companies have said they will stop buying it - as the Chilean sea bass.

The toothfish grows slowly, and can reach more than two metres in length. It lives for up to 50 years and does not breed until it is at least 10 years old.


[ image: Not beatiful, but highly prized: the toothfish (Photo: Greenpeace/Grace)]
Not beatiful, but highly prized: the toothfish (Photo: Greenpeace/Grace)
Greenpeace wants stricter protection for the toothfish because much of the fishing is uncontrolled, and because thousands of seabirds are killed in the process.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) says half of the toothfish catch is taken by illegal pirate vessels, and it believes that the pirates have taken up to 90% of all the toothfish caught in some parts of the southern ocean.

CCAMLR starts its 1999 meeting on 1 November in the Tasmanian city of Hobart, with the fate of the toothfish high on its agenda. It has authorised an annual catch limit of about 10,000 tonnes, but the pirate catch is believed to be more than twice as high.

Greenpeace wants CCAMLR to impose a moratorium on all fishing for the species as a matter of urgency. It says pirate fishing should be stopped, and more research done to see whether the toothfish catch is sustainable.

Extinction

The Australian Government said in 1998 that the continuation of pirate fishing at present levels would mean the toothfish became commercially extinct within two or three years.


[ image: Drowned albatross, caught on a toothfish line (Photo: Greenpeace/Hansford)]
Drowned albatross, caught on a toothfish line (Photo: Greenpeace/Hansford)
Greenpeace asked several UK supermarket chains to back its campaign. Tesco said it strongly supported the moratorium call. But Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Asda stopped short of doing so, saying they believed their supplies were legally caught, and without risk to other species.

But CCAMLR says the fishing gear used by the pirates kills more than 100,000 seabirds a year, including endangered albatross species. The vessels set lines with up to 20,000 baited hooks, and birds which swallow the bait are dragged underwater to drown.

Some albatrosses live for up to 85 years, and mate for life. They spend most of their time in the air, relying on their 3.5m wingspan to ride the ocean thermals.



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Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

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