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Boats to be tagged to curb illegal fishing

Fishing vessels from seven countries will soon install and test tracking systems so they can be a monitored as part of an experiment aimed at curbing illegal fishing in remote waters. Australia proposed the trial after its authorities spent 21 days in August chasing a Uruguayan-flagged boat suspected of poaching rare Patagonian toothfish through freezing, Antarctic seas. The chase ended off South Africa.

Australia has said the vessel’s radio transmitter had incorrectly indicated it was off the coast of South Africa when the boat was spotted in Australian territorial waters in the Southern Ocean, sparking the 3 900-nautical mile (more than 7 000km) chase.

The fishing boats will be testing an automated satellite-based communication system, coupled with a global positioning system, that beams information on a boat’s position, course and speed to a central point, a conservation ministry spokesman said on Monday.

The trial has been approved by the 24-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which also agreed at a meeting in the Australian state of Tasmania last week to compile a blacklist of illegal fishing boats. The centralised monitoring system would be tested by boats from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay and Argentina, while the European Union and other countries were considering taking part, Macdonald said. The commission also agreed to continue a trial of an electronic catch documentation scheme.

The chase for the Uruguayan-flagged vessel Viarsa in August highlighted not only the plight of the increasingly rare toothfish, a delicacy prized in Asia and the United States, but also the declining state of the world’s over-exploited fisheries. Armed fisheries officers stormed the Viarsa and escorted the vessel back to Australia where five crew members have been charged with illegal fishing and face fines of up to Aus$550 000 (about R2,7-million).

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