Toothfish Fishery

The South Georgia longline fishery for Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) runs from mid April to the end of August each year. In 2004, the South Georgia government achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification for the sustainability of its Patagonian toothfish fishery, certifying that South Georgia met the MSC’s environmental standards. The fishery was recertified without conditions in 2009 and 2014. In the 2016 and 17 seasons there were six licensed vessels fishing for a combined quota of 2,200 tonnes. The quota is based on scientific advice [.docx, 0.01mb] taking into account GSGSSI’s precautionary management approach.

Large toothfish caught around South Georgia.

Large toothfish caught around South Georgia.

A scientific observer releasing a tagged toothfish for stock assessments.

A scientific observer releasing a tagged toothfish for stock assessments.

Background

Patagonian toothfish are large, long-lived species, belonging to the Notothenidae family (often called Antarctic Cod). In South Georgia waters, the fishery for toothfish began in the 1980s and expanded rapidly in the early 1990s. Demand from consumers and limited supply turned toothfish into a high value product, which attracted many Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) vessels. Besides the impact on fish stocks, IUU vessels were killing thousands of birds each year (mostly albatrosses and petrels). These birds target the baited hooks as they are deployed and drown if they become snagged. In response to these issues, CCAMLR introduced strict regulations to prevent bird bycatch.

In 1998, GSGSSI issued the first licenses to fishing vessels and patrols for IUU vessels (often termed ‘pirates’) were initiated. Today the fishery is exceedingly well managed by GSGSSI with scientific advice and support from the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas) and from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). In 2014, the fishery underwent its five yearly MSC re-assessment and was once again passed with no conditions on the certification. The fishery scored an average of 96 out of 100 against the three MSC principles, making it one of the world’s highest scoring fisheries assessed against MSC standards.

Amongst the management measures to protect fish stocks are:

  • Strict quotas – based on scientific research and surveys
  • Minimum fishing depth of 700 m – to protect juvenile fish.
  • Closed areas – to protect spawning fish.
  • Scientific observers on each vessel – to collect data for stock assessments.

 

Amongst the mitigation measures used to minimise seabird mortality in the South Georgia toothfish fishery are:

  • Restricted season- mid April to 31st August to coincide with the non-breeding season when most of the vulnerable species depart from South Georgia waters.
  • Night-time setting of hooks – to avoid diurnally active birds.
  • Minimum line weighting – to aid hook sink rate; and
  • Streamer lines – to scare birds away from baited hooks during line setting.

 

A small mixed fishery for Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) is conducted in the waters of the South Sandwich Islands.

Toothfish vessels operate in the winter to avoid interaction with breeding seabirds.

Toothfish vessels operate in the winter to avoid interaction with breeding seabirds.

Toothfish