Marine conservation group, the Sea Shepherd, is gearing up for another Southern Ocean expedition in time of Antarctic summer.

The group suspects the Japanese will not return to kill whales this hunting season, but if they do, they will drive them back to Japan. The International Court of Justice declared in March this year Japanese whaling in the area is illegal.

Sea Shepherd is launching the next mission called Operation Shellfish to catch poachers of Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

The group said toothfish poaching is another threat in the area that has had a devastating effect on icefish population. They warn illegal fishers they will seize nets and will work with authorities to confiscate illegal boats.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, arrived in Auckland’s harbour yesterday after a voyage from Melbourne. The ship, carrying 25 crew from around the globe, arrived in New Zealand to source supplies and to prepare for the upcoming operation.

Operation Icefish will be the first campaign of its kind, using innovative direct action tactics to fill a law enforcement void exploited by illegal toothfish operators.

The Bob Barker and the Sam Simon will leave Hobart and Wellington, respectively, to patrol the Antarctic.

Peter Hammarstedt, Captain of M/Y Bob Barker and Director of Ship Operations said in a statement illegal fishing operations will be documented, reported, and confronted. He added, “they will be physically obstructed from deploying their illegal gillnets and unlawful fishing gear will be confiscated and destroyed.”

Michael Lawry, Sea Shepherd New Zealand welcomed the Sea Shepherd ship. He said Sea Shepherd launched a pioneering work to patrol the seas in 2002 with one ship that left Auckland  to confront illegal whalers. On its 12 years of operation, thousands of whales were saved. Come down and welcome the ship and brave crew into our port,” he said

Patagonian Toothfish

Toothfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants. (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

Toothfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants. (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

An Australian Government report said there is a large-scale illegal toothfish fishing around Southern Ocean which was first  noticed in 1997. Surveillance and monitoring were then put in place. According to the report, there was a spike in catch up to three to four times higher than the allowable and legal catch of species in all areas. According to the Coalition of  Legal Toothfish Operators Inc,  illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for toothfish “has been reduced by about 95% since peak levels in the 1990s.” At present, IUU fishing for this specie is restricted to the high seas and mostly, they are caught by gillnet.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. AFMA said prices fetch up to $US10 per kilo for headed, gutted and tailed fish in major markets in Japan and the United States. Toothfish can grow to a large size (over 2 m long and 100 kg in weight). Its white flesh is considered to be of top quality with few bones. Tootfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants around the world.