New ordinance protects toothfish from overfishing

Posted 16 October 2020
What do the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari) and Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) share in common?

As their names hint, they all inhabit the Southern Ocean around the Antarctica, and are also the major source of prey for seals, whales, and penguins and other birds! They are also increasingly targeted by humans.

To ensure the conservation of these important species, fishing activities in the Southern Ocean are managed by an international treaty called The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention). The convention area covers around 10% of the Earth’s oceans. Currently, there are 36 signatories, including China and recently extended to Hong Kong SAR.

From 2012-2018, an average of 15,390 tonnes of Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish was caught in the convention area every year. In Hong Kong, the import volume of these toothfish reached a top of 1,969 tonnes in 2016, representing more than 13% of the total toothfish capture volume in the convention area.
These toothfish, commonly marketed under the names white cod, Chilean seabass and seabass, are mainly imported from Australia, Argentina, Chile and France.

Starting from 1 July 2020, Hong Kong legislation under the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources Ordinance (CAMLR Ordinance) (Cap. 635) has come into force. Since 2010, WWF-Hong Kong has been calling on the government to extend the CAMLR Convention to Hong Kong by regulating the import and re-export of toothfish, and had participated a consultation on the bill in 2018.

Under the new ordinance, any person who wants to import, export or re-export toothfish will have to obtain a license issued by the AFCD, which ensures that the toothfish are legally imported from one of the 36 contracting parties. Contravening the ordinance carries a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and one year imprisonment.

As toothfish is the most lucrative fishery in the Southern Ocean, the ordinance will not only combat the illegal trade but help to preserve this species and ensure they are caught and traded in a sustainable manner.

Patagonian toothfish are slow growing. They can take 6-9 years to become sexually mature and live for up to 50
years. This makes them highly vulnerable to extinction under the stress of overfishing.  
While Hong Kong traders are now required to obtain a license, business and individual consumers also have a role to play by checking that their product comes from MSC-certified Patagonian toothfish fisheries.