Last chance to stop the illegal trade in Species

Last chance to stop the illegal trade in Species

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By Emma Duncan *

Illegal hunters and pirates are driving a number of valuable species to commercial extinction. and I am the final buyers.

Illegal trade is a threat to many species. You and I are sometimes unconsciously the end buyers. It is time for CITES to regulate international trade in species that are generally considered merchandise and not wildlife, to ensure that they are not illegally traded or harvested at unsustainable levels.

Do you think you have never been involved in the illegal trade in endangered animals or plants? Think it over. If you have ever eaten Chilean grouper there is a 50% chance that what you have been served was caught and traded illegally. And if you have recently bought some mahogany furniture it is also possible that the wood is illegal.

Illegal hunters and pirates are driving a number of valuable species to commercial extinction. Their illegal activities constitute a large-scale business worth millions of dollars every year. But the money does not come from the black market. and I am the final buyers.


Take for example the Patagonian Black Hake (Dissostichus eleginoides). This deep-sea inhabitant of the southern seas was virtually unknown until a specimen was fished off Chile in 1982. It appears on menus as Chilean grouper (UK and North America) grouper (Japan) and deep-sea cod (Chile and Spain ) - to mention just a few of their names in the markets. This species quickly became a sensation in restaurants around the world, and even won "Dish of the Year" in 2001 in Bon Appetit magazine. It costs up to US $ 35 per kilogram, and soon earned the nickname "white gold" among fishermen.

But like all gold rushes, the source of toothfish is not limitless. By 1998, South African fisheries were no longer commercially viable because stocks were severely depleted. Other stocks of are also dangerously depleted and could face commercial extinction in the near future if fishing continues at current levels.

The rapid decline in Patagonian toothfish stocks is due to a combination of biology, piracy and a lack of trade regulations.

This fish lives for about 50 years and grows up to two meters long. It takes about 10 years to reach sexual maturity and the female only produces a relatively small number of eggs. These factors make the species especially susceptible to overfishing.

To address this situation, the organization responsible for fisheries in the South Seas, the (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources - CCAMLR) - Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources - developed a proactive scheme for conservation of toothfish and the sustainable management of its fisheries. The measures that were implemented under this regime include the total allowable fishing and a scheme to document the fishing to monitor its commercialization.

If CCAMLR measures were implemented efficiently, they should be sufficient to protect hake from over-exploitation. The problem is that there are pirates - fishermen who engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing - who do not comply with the CCAMLR rules.

Pirate fishing

Pirate fishing represents at least 50% of the total Patagonian toothfish harvest that appears on the market, and is the greatest individual threat to the species. The problem is extensive, as there are illegal and unregulated vessels from some 11 countries, which often use so-called "flags of convenience". The collapse of one of the South African stocks of the species was due to just three years of pirate fishing. The same could happen in Australian waters.

The pirates threaten not only to kill the Black Hake. The palegre team they employ drown more than 100,000 seabirds each year - including 20 endangered species of albatrosses - who dive to grab the bait. Sperm whales, Elephant Seals and other animals that feed on the Black Hake would also be affected by their decline.

Legitimate fishermen who observe the CCAMLR rules are also affected. South Africa has lost some $ 290 million to illegal Patagonian toothfish fishing since the mid-1990s, and legitimate fishing has completely disappeared. Fishermen in Australia also fear that their livelihood will disappear with this species. Australian authorities are actively pursuing and arresting illegal fishermen, and the government has promised to increase the number of patrols in the south seas this month.

But is putting more police in the best way to enforce illegitimate fishing? The southern ocean is vast and remote which makes patrolling extremely difficult. Arresting illegals is also difficult and costly: in April Australian and South African naval forces chased a Togo-registered vessel, the South Tomi, for 6,100 kilometers across the southern seas to stop it. Even when patrolling is effective, it results in fishermen moving into unpatrolled areas.


Stronger trade regulations would help enforce the rules - pirates would not catch the Patagonian toothfish if they could not sell it. Although the CCAMLR regulations were designed to prevent trade in illegally caught specimens, there are numerous evasions. A limited number of countries respect the regulations, but they do not include many states involved in fishing, importing and marketing the fish.

Even if the fishing takes place within the jurisdiction of CCAMLR, the regulations can easily be circumvented by falsely reporting the fishing site. In addition, many vessels dedicated to fishing for Black Hake operate under the "flag of convenience" of countries that do not rigorously enforce CCAMLR rules and allow illegal fishing to receive valid documentation. There is also a compliance problem in countries that import fish. For example, Canada is one of the largest importers but has not implemented the CCAMLR documentation system.

CITES - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - has a well-established procedure to protect species that are traded internationally. The trade of species that appear in its Appendices is strictly controlled to ensure that it is legal and does not affect the survival of the species in their habitat.

Since the Convention was established, not a single one of the more than 30,000 species protected by CITES has become extinct as a result of its commercialization, although some, such as the botuto (Strombus gigas), which are fished for food crocodiles and alligators - hunted by their skins - are traded in large quantities. Furthermore, CITES has already proven its value in regulating commercial fishing by listing sturgeon species in the Appendix to combat the illegal caviar business.

Include hake in CITES

Including the Patagonian Hake in CITES Appendix II would allow for transparent and global monitoring of its commercialization flows and would provide measures to ensure that only fish would be legally traded. The Antarctic Hake (D. mawsonii) should also be included as it is a species very similar to that of Patagonia, and supporting CCAMLR's conservation measures would combat the large-scale killing of seabirds that accompanies illegal operations. .

The Patagonian Hake clearly meets the requirements for inclusion in Appendix II and doing so would complement the existing CCAMLR fisheries management. So, given the critical condition of its existence, why has it not been included in the Appendix?

The problem is a long-standing debate about whether or not to include marine fish in the CITES Appendices, especially those subject to large-scale commercial harvest outside the waters of any country. Some nations resist all efforts to further regulate fisheries and ensure their sustainability, preferring to maximize fishing in the short term.

The biology of hake cannot be changed. Marketing rules do, and they would constitute an effective measure to combat illegal fishing. The upcoming CITES Stakeholders Conference in November - which will take place, ironically, in Chile, the country that brought the world's attention to commercial fishing for this threatened species - would be the occasion to give it one last chance, along with other threatened species. for unregulated trade.

Common names of the TOOTHFISH of Patagonia:

"Black hake (Spain)
"Deep Sea Cod (Spain and Chile)
"Chilean sea grouper (US and Canada)
"Legine (France)
"Mero (Japan)
"TOOTHFISH from Patagonia (R.U.)
"BUTTERFISH (Mauritias)
"Black Hake

Members of the CCAMLR
The member states are: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, the European Community (EC), France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Africa from the South, Spain, Sweden, the UK Ukraine, USA and Uruguay.

The states that adhere to the Convention but are not members are: Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Peru and Vanuatu.

For more information about the CCAMLR list, see

"Flag of Convenience"
A vessel registered under a flag of convenience is one that displays the flag of a country other than that of its owner. The benefits of a flag of convenience for a boat owner include lower registration fees, lower or no taxes and, in some cases, the lack of control by the flag country over the activities of the boat.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not constitute a threat to their survival. Through marketing regulations, CITES offers protection to more than 30,000 species of plants and animals and is one of the oldest (1975) and largest and most successful conservation treaties.

Species are classified into one of three appendices according to the level of danger of extinction in which they are:

"Appendix I lists species in danger of extinction. International trade in these species is prohibited.
"Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily in danger of extinction at the moment, but that could be so unless their commercialization is subject to strict regulations. Trade in these species is allowed on the condition that the specimens are obtained legally and is not harmful to the wild population.
"Appendix III lists the protected species in at least one country and that that country has requested the assistance of CITES members to control the trade in the species.
For more information about CITES see or

The twelfth meeting of the CITES Conference of Stakeholders (COP12)
COP12 will take place in Santiago, Chile from November 3 to 15. The 158 states that adhere to CITES will make a series of decisions concerning international trade in wildlife, including Patagonian toothfish, elephants, mahogany, sharks, hawksbill turtles, musk deer and many more.

WWF will work with COP12 to obtain positive results for these species. For WWF positions on species to be discussed at COP12, see

There is more information about Patagonian toothfish in TRAFFIC's report Unexplored Waters - Implementation of themes and the potential benefits of listing the Patagonian toothfish in Appendix II of CITES, which can be viewed at www.

* Emma Duncan
Managing Editor of WWF International in Gland, Switzerland.

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