Published 25 September 2016

Toothfish floundering after years without CITES protection

Johannesburg, South Africa, 25th September 2016—a fisheries management body has written to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to report that many Parties are failing to co-operate with its trade regulations and even licencing illegal fishing vessels that catch Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish in its waters.

Illegal fishing is putting both Atlantic and Patagonian Toothfish, which are caught in deep sea areas regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), at risk. 

Now CCAMLR has named the 21 non-member countries that have not co-operated with use of the Commission’s catch documentation scheme and the 11 who have licenced illegal fishing vessels. All of the former and all but one of the latter are Parties to CITES. 

In 2002, both toothfish species were proposed for listing under CITES but these were withdrawn when Parties instead committed to comply with CCAMLR regulations. 

Almost 15 years later CCAMLR has detailed a serious lack of co-operation from a large number of CITES Parties. 

It’s an international disgrace that promises of co-operation with CCAMLR to end illegal toothfish trade made under CITES have been broken

Markus Burgener, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC

In 2002, TRAFFIC reported that at least half the toothfish trade was illegally caught, and while the level of illegal catch has been significantly reduced it still remains a significant threat to their conservation status. 

Particularly concerning is that illegal fishers generally use deepwater bottom set gillnets, which have been banned in the CCAMLR area since 2004 because of the serious threat they pose to species particularly susceptible to over-exploitation such as sharks, skates and rays. The vast nets are often over 100 kilometres long and are set more than 1.5 km below the surface. 

“A number of countries, including South Africa and its neighbours, have worked tirelessly to reduce illegal catch and trade in toothfish. Despite their positive impacts, the failure of those countries identified in the CCAMLR report is disappointing and remains a thorn in the side of legal and sustainable toothfish trade,” said Theressa Frantz, head of Environmental Programmes for WWF South Africa. 

During today’s meeting, both New Zealand and the EU spoke up in favour of draft decisions urging all CITES Parties catching and trading toothfish to do so in accordance with CCAMLR provisions and to provide recommendations on how to improve their implementation of CCAMLR at the 18th Conference of the Parties. 

“We are left wondering whether listing of toothfish under CITES back in 2002 might in fact have helped prompt much more effective action to stop illegal fishing, which is what prompted TRAFFIC today to call upon Parties to consider the merits of listing toothfish in CITES in the future,” said Burgener.


Toothfish are commonly sold as Chilean Sea Bass.

CCAMLR's report to CITES (PDF)

The non-CCAMLR countries reported to licence illegal vessels possibly engaged in the illegal catch of toothfish are Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Islamic Republic of Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Panama, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo. All except the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are members of CITES. 

The non-CCAMLR countries named for failing to participate in the CCAMLR catch and documentation scheme are: Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei Darussalam, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam. All are members of CITES. 

CCAMLR has 25 member States: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay.