Australia Gets Serious About Toothfish Poachers

HEAVY-calibre machine-guns have been fitted to the deck of the Hobart-based Antarctic research vessel Aurora Australis.

Finally, a government is getting deadly serious about the steady rape of Patagonian Toothfish in the waters around Antarctica.

In fact, Australia is investing $90 million Australian dollars in a program to target poachers.

In addition to the deck guns, the Aurora Australis will carry an armed Customs boarding party.

The new policy announcement was made aboard the Aurora Australis yesterday by Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation Minister Ian Macdonald and Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison.

Senator Ellison said, "This sends a very clear message to illegal fisherman that we are deadly serious about cracking down on the trade."

It is the first time a Customs and Fisheries patrol boat has been fitted with deck-mounted machine-guns.

The use of the Aurora Australis for patrolling is only temporary and Customs is planning to be operating a permanent patrol boat by the end of the year.

The permanent patrol boat will operate an ongoing, full-time surveillance and enforcement patrol program.

The Antarctic research ship will patrol the region around Heard and MacDonald Islands.

In 2003, Australian Customs officials chased a Uruguayan fishing boat for 7000km before its crew were caught and charged.

The Shepherd Conservation Society enthusiastically applauds this move by Australia.

"For years, we have been advocating tougher enforcement against the Toothfish pirates. Australia has stepped up to the plate and the future now holds more promise for survival for this rare and important fish," said Captain Paul Watson from onboard the Sea Shepherd conservation research vessel Farley Mowat in the waters off Venezuela.