realities of fishing

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Human Dimension

Fishing anywhere on the high seas can be a dangerous and hazardous business, particularly in the cold and at times ferocious waters of the southern oceans that surround Antarctica. The fishermen of the South Georgia fisheries accept the hazards of high winds, rough seas, blizzard conditions, icebergs, sea ice and sometimes poorly charted waters combined with sub zero temperatures, as part of their job.


Typically their vessels are only some 50 metres in length with a crew of about 40 living cheek to jowl in very cramped conditions. Crews are multinational with a predominance of Spanish, Chilean, Portuguese, Russian, South African and Korean males. Ages range from 18 to 45. The main fishing season lasts for 4 to 5 months between April and September, which is during the Austral winter, when the worst of weather and sea conditions can be expected.


Crews work 7 days a week in continuously cold, wet, slimy, smelly and cramped conditions setting lines with bait and hauling in the catch whatever the weather. Most of the fish are then gutted and prepared for freezing and storage onboard before transfer to a refrigerated cargo ship or landing overseas at the end of the season. Running repairs are made to fishing nets and lines on the spot. In tumultuous seas up to Force 8 fishing continues, and with freezing temperatures and blizzards, this business is not for the faint hearted.


As fishing vessels will not touch land during the season there is no fresh food on board such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Contact with families is difficult. In emergency a satellite phone, email or fax can be used. Often fishermen will return to their families at the end of the season to find their children have been born in their absence. In the event of injury, evacuation is difficult and takes time. The doctor on South Georgia may be able to help, although in serious cases evacuation to Stanley in the Falkland Islands some 850 miles away may be needed.



Research at Sea

Fishing companies work with the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to conduct fisheries research during the fishing season. Research has included stock surveys, ground surveys and migratory surveys. Each fishing vessel carries an observer provided by Marine Resources Assessment Group Ltd to provide a written report to CCAMLR and also to conduct fisheries research. These observers are paid from the revenue generated by the sale of fishing licences to fishing companies.



A specified number of fish are tagged and returned to the sea alive. If a tagged fish is subsequently found during the handling process a reward of $10 is paid to the individual. An [news3.htm#prize annual prize] of $1500 is awarded to one fortunate individual whose tag is drawn from a hat. The information derived contributes to the surveys being carried out and is essential for stock assesment purposes.


Recent research has included experimental fishing for Patagonian toothfish using pots rather than a long line. The research was valuable, but the method was not adopted as typically one ton of fish could be caught a day using the pot method against 5 tons a day using long lines. Experimental crab fishing has also been conducted. In the event of the loss of a pot an escape panel provides a means of escape. In time a thin sisal tie rots through and the panel opens to allow the occupant to swim away.

One problem with long line fishing has been the presence of killer whales (orcas) and sperm whales, which can strip a long line of fish as the line is being brought to the surface. The industry in conjunction with a Spanish University in Santiago and an acoustics company devised a method of scaring off orcas and sperm whales. The method worked for a short time, but soon the whales recognised the sound as the dinner gong! The only solution appears to be to stop fishing. Ongoing trials with a modified line system have proved to be far more successful.



Commission for the Conservation of

Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)


MRAG Ltd undertake stock assesment for GSGSSI and provides observers who are charged to the fishing industry within the licence fee to ensure the South Georgia fisheries comply with CCAMLR conservation measures.


By following CCAMLR and government conservation measures such as fishing at night, weighting lines so they sink immediately on entering the water, deploying streamers and discharging offal on the opposite side of the fishing vessel to the longline deployment the incidence of sea birds being inadvertently drowned on long line hooks while taking the bait has ceased on the South Georgia fishery zone.


It is of note the South Georgia fisheries have applied for a certification of the "Marine Stewardship Council" as a safe fishery. Very few fisheries in the world achieve this status.

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