Fishing lines: The day the toothfish fairy came to call

Thanks to the British Society of Magazine Editors, I am now a world expert on the plight of the Patagonian toothfish (in a word, desperate).
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The Independent Online


I didn't know a thing about dissostichus eleginoides until the BSME's annual awards. And I suspect that I would have remained blissfully ignorant about it, but for an exceptional piece of fortune that evening...

Time we stopped these illegal fishing boats hauling out millions of toothfish. You've got to feel sorry for them. They mature late, breed slowly and live in the dark, cold bits, down as deep as 3,000 metres. Write to your MP. Tell him the species needs a toothfish fairy, or it could become extinct.

Who's to blame? Well, first of all the Japanese, who have a sweet tooth for toothfish. Second, the companies and crews that fish for them, principally from Norway, Denmark and the Faroes. Third, the processors in southern South America that sell fillets to the restaurant trade in Europe and North America. Fourth, Mauritius.

Alistair Graham of the International Southern Oceans Longline Fisheries Information Clearing House, mercifully shortened to Isofish, says: "We have established beyond reasonable doubt that Mauritius deserves its epithet as the pirate capital of the illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean." This is because the island plays a key part in servicing those illegal boats.

Furthermore, unregulated longliners are responsible for almost all the albatross deaths in the Southern Ocean. The birds are attracted to the bait, get dragged underwater and drown.

You might wonder why I've become so interested in toothfish and albatrosses, and where an organisation better known as LWL (Ladies Who Lunch) fits in to all this. Good question. I was hoping you would ask.

I attended the BSME awards in my capacity as editor of Classic Angling. I bought a couple of raffle tickets. Of course, you don't expect to win. With a thousand people in the room, you might just know somebody who sat on the same table as someone who won a prize.

Only this time, I did a little better than that. I was on the winner's table. In fact, the winner was me. (Sorry if I m dragging this out, but it's a moment to savour.)

What did I win? Well, only a week for two, all expenses paid, at a five-star hotel in Mauritius. Having got over the shock, and asking my wife: "But who the hell should I take?" (the bruises are just starting to fade), I started to research the island. The more I read the better it got. White beaches, palm trees, rare birds, great creole food, places that will make a suit in 48 hours for a few shiny pebbles, a sexy dance called the sega, 1,000 species of fish... I could go on and on.

There are so many attractions and temptations (including giant blue marlin) that the inaugural meeting of the Toothfish Liberation Front has been postponed. I think this project may demand a great deal of on-site research.



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