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Friday, 21 May 2010

A scientific exploration voyage to the Southern Ocean has discovered traces of illegal longline fishing in areas where fishing is prohibited. The Catalyst segment included footage taken by a camera attached to a beam trawl showing continuous lines dragged along the sea bed. The scientists also retreived a longline of 3km in length, which they examined in order to identify its provenance.

The team from the Australian Antarctic Division of the federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts took their gear to an undersea plateau called Bruce Rise, where fishing is prohibited under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Information gleaned during the research trip would be sent to CCAMLR. Dr Andrew Constable, head of the expedition, spoke about the findings:

What was really fascinating about Bruce Rise, and a real surprise, was that it was covered in long, straight furrows. And we repeatedly encountered that. The quantity of the furrows and their characteristics would suggest that there was fishing already happening on Bruce Rise. In the closed area.

The ten-day trip involved deck crews as well as staff in the "wet lab" where samples taken from the seabed are sorted, examined and classified.

The crew's difficulties on top of working in a cold environment include hazards to the gear such as "dropstones" - rocks that have fallen out of icebergs and from glaciers. The beam trawl struck stones on numerous occasions, and even caused the ensemble to tip over at least once.

Information on the type of animals and flora living up to 2km below the surface and at icy temperatures, as well as photographic evidence of longline fishing, can be used to improve conservation of a high-value marine environment.

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