20, Mar, 2012

Fishing in Antarctica’s Ross Sea Unacceptable Say Major Environmental Groups

Category: News

January 18, 2012 – Washington, DC. In the wake of two major accidents involving fishing vessels in the Ross Sea, Antarctica in the past three weeks, ASOC1 criticized governments for allowing the unsafe vessels into the fragile and dangerous Ross Sea to fish.

“The history of fishing vessel accidents and losses of life in the Ross Sea since fishing was allowed there in 1997 is unacceptable,” said Cath Wallace (ECO-New Zealand). “Permitting fishing for Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea puts at risk human life and the biodiversity and special qualities of the Ross Sea ecosystem both directly and through accidents.”

One month ago – on December 16, 2011 – the 23-year-old Russian flagged fishing vessel Sparta hit ice in the Ross Sea near the ice shelf (3704km from New Zealand) resulting in a hole in her hull below the waterline, water ingress and a 13-degree list.

The Sparta was longline fishing for toothfish in the Ross Sea and was carrying 180 tons of light fuel oil. Eventually the South Korean icebreaker Araon was able to reach the Sparta and helped repair it – including transferring 103 tons of fuel oil to the Araon so that the area with the hole would float above the waterline to allow the repair operation.

The Sparta was then convoyed by the Araon to an ice-free zone on December 28, 12 days after she was first holed. The Sparta was able to make it to Nelson, New Zealand on January 10 to be repaired.

On January 10, 2012 the Jeong Woo 2, a 51-meter vessel fishing in the Ross Sea2, got into difficulty about 350 miles from McMurdo station, with a serious fire. Three seamen were killed and seven were injured. The blaze appears to have started in the living quarters before it quickly spread to the engine room and the ship's fish processing plant. It raged out of control, with the crew's firefighting teams unable to halt its progress. Some men were able to get into a life raft but the fire burned through the other life raft.

A U.S. research vessel, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, rescued the injured crewmen and a US Air Force plane airlifted them from Antarctica to Christchurch, New Zealand for treatment of their burns. The other surviving crew were rescued by the Jeong Woo 3, which plans to rendezvous with the ice-breaker Araon, which will take them to Lyttelton, New Zealand. They are expected to arrive around January 19. The Jeong Woo 2 remains on fire and its fate along with the oil on board is as yet unknown.

Neither vessel was ice-strengthened, nor were they carrying sufficient spare equipment needed to deal with an emergency in the inhospitable Antarctic marine environment. “Both were engaged in the ‘Olympic’ fishery established for the Ross Sea, which encourages vessels to go anywhere they want without regard to their vessels’ limitations or risks to their crews in order to get the maximum amount of the overall toothfish quota,” said Jim Barnes (ASOC Executive Director).

“In 2010 22 people were killed in the sinking of the Insung No 1, a Korean vessel also fishing in the Ross Sea for toothfish.”

ASOC recommends that the network of Marine Protected Areas being designated by the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Antarctic waters include the Ross Sea shelf and slope, which should be put off limits to fishing as a no-take marine reserve.

The Ross Sea possesses a high level of habitat diversity, with an unusually robust pelagic assemblage of numerous large fish, sea birds, penguins, pinnipeds and whales. It provides habitat for large percentages of the world’s populations of many higher trophic level species, including 26% of emperor penguins, 30% of Antarctic petrels, 38% of Adélie penguins, 45% of South Pacific Weddell seals and 50% of Ross Sea killer whales.

It is the type locality for over 400 benthic invertebrates. Important components of the Ross Sea’s upper trophic level fauna – penguins, toothfish, and Weddell seals – require the entire Ross Sea shelf and slope to complete their annual cycle.

“The Ross Sea is a scientific and ecological treasure for the world now and a legacy that we can leave for future generations,” said Jim Barnes, ASOC’s Executive Director. “Its largest predator fish – the Antarctic toothfish – is being fished down rapidly. The Ross Sea should not be sacrificed for the short-term gain of fishing companies and wealthy consumers in a few countries.”

ASOC also urges that the new Polar Shipping Code being negotiated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) should be expanded to cover fishing vessels, and that non-ice-strengthened fishing vessels be prohibited from entering dangerous Antarctic waters.

"We hope that the Polar Code will set higher standards for all vessels operating in remote and hazardous Arctic and Antarctic waters," said Sian Prior, ASOC's IMO representative. “At present the governments have decided to leave fishing vessels to a later phase of the negotiations, which would mean many years will pass before appropriate regulations are introduced for those vessels.”

For further information:

James N. Barnes, Executive Director, ASOC
Cell: +33-6-7418-1994

Sian Prior, Senior ASOC Advisor
Cell: +44-7785-747945

Claire Christian (Director of ASOC Secretariat):
Tel: +1-803-429-6396

Cath Wallace, Co-chair ECO NZ
Tel: +64-21-891-994