More Protection Urged for Rare Chilean Sea Bass at CITES
BANGKOK Environmentalists urged fishing nations on Thursday to do more to protect the rare Chilean sea bass (also known as Patagonian toothfish), dubbed the "white gold" of the sea who is being driven to extinction by rampant poaching.
"Ultimately, toothfish can only be saved by immediate international intervention similar to protection accorded to other threatened species," the U.S.-based National Environment Trust (NET) said in a report.
The report, "Black Market for White Gold," was released at the two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the Thai capital.
CITES regulates global trade in endangered plants and animals, and Australia has put forward a resolution urging more cooperation in the fight against illegal fishing.
But environmentalists are disappointed that no member state has submitted a proposal to list the toothfish on one of the CITES appendices which would clamp tighter restrictions on the global trade of the species.
"Around 95 percent of toothfish products are in international trade and so stricter CITES regulations would be appropriate," said Anna Willock, an Australian-based fisheries adviser to TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring network.
With its protruding mouth and face that only a mother could love, the toothfish has become an unlikely "poster animal" for conservationists, who say its plight is emblematic of the crisis in global fish stocks, many of which are in trouble.
NET said the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) estimated that in 2002, 62,643 tons of toothfish were caught in the Southern Ocean.
"CCAMLR is only certain that 29,497 metric tons of the total yearly catch is caught legally," it said.
Many countries are opposed to listing fish species on CITES on the grounds that it is difficult to regulate the industry or because they don't want trade restrictions which could affect huge commercial operations.
Such thinking could torpedo a proposal by Australia and Madagascar to list the great white shark of Jaws fame.
South African and Australian ships pursued a Uruguayan vessel for almost three weeks last years through icy seas on suspicion of poaching toothfish.
Its white flesh is highly prized in Asia and the United States.
Scientists say the deep-water fish, who can grow to two meters (6 feet) long, could become commercially extinct by 2007 due to illegal fishing. Commercially extinct means that stocks have been so depleted that it is no longer viable to harvest the species.