Conservation groups have petitioned the United States to impose sanctions against Spain over illegal and harmful fishing practices involving the Patagonian toothfish in Antarctic waters.
The Humane Society International (HSI) and the WWF have accused rogue Spanish operators of illegally plundering the increasingly overfished but valuable toothfish and killing thousands of seabirds in the process.
Australia has long battled illegal fishing in its Antarctic territorial waters around Heard Island.
HSI’s Australian spokeswoman Nicola Beynon said the illegal fishing was devastating populations of albatross and petrel, the world’s most endangered group of birds.
“The birds drown as a result of entanglement with the baited hooks on the lethal longline fishing boats involved in poaching Patagonian toothfish, widely known as Chilean sea bass, a highly overfished species,” Ms Beynon said in a statement.
“The US is a major toothfish importer and has taken tough measures to restrict toothfish imports from the illegal poachers.”
She said in their greed to profit from the Chilean sea bass black market, the poachers, and ultimately Spain, were flouting all conservation measures.
They were also causing the deaths of thousands of critically endangered seabirds, and putting the Patagonian toothfish on the fast track to an endangered listing, she said.
The environment groups have urged the United States to stand firm against the practices and sanction Spain for allowing the death toll on endangered populations to go unchecked.
The petition was sent late last week to US Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez.
It asked the United States to certify and sanction Spain under relevant laws for allowing fishing activities that undermines the effectiveness of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
The CCAMLR convention, to which both the United States and Spain are parties, was established in 1980 to protect the wildlife of Antarctica.
It regulates a legal fishing industry for toothfish and requires strict conservation measures to protect seabirds.