Krill fishing halted in penguin-rich habitat near Antarctica

The Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies (ARK) has created a new zone off-limits to fishing in Hope Bay, off the northernmost tip of Antarctica, protecting a vital habitat for several colonies of penguins.

ARK, representing krill-fishing vessels from Chile, China, Norway, and South Korea, has agreed to a 4,500-square-kilometer voluntary restricted zone in the Hope Bay area, which will now be closed to fishing year-round. The newly expanded restricted zones now encompass 74,400 square kilometers of ocean around the South Shetland Islands, northern Antarctic Peninsula, and in the Gerlache Strait. The ARK Expert Panel, a body that provides technical advice to the organization’s decision-making body, had urged the extension of non-fishing zones to protect moulting adult penguins and dispersal of newly fledged juveniles, ARK said in a press release.

“ARK understands the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. That is why we have gone beyond existing regulations by taking preventative measures, such as the [voluntary restricted zones],” ARK President Valeria Carvajal said. “We also recognized that proper management requires determining whether, in addition to climate change, fishing, tourism, and other activities have potential effects on krill and its predators, such as penguins. With this voluntary measure, ARK is setting aside an area that encompasses one of the largest colonies of Adélie penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula region, which has an ongoing, long-term monitoring program.”

The move was also intended to “send a strong statement of intent from the industry in support of a marine protected area in the Antarctic Peninsula to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the entire Antarctic community,” Carvajal said.

Made up of 25 states plus the European Union, the members of CCAMLR oversee development and protection of the Antarctic region. At its November meeting, the organization rejected an effort to create a new marine protected area that has been negotiated for more than five years.

The companies belonging to ARK and agreeing to the new commitment include Aker BioMarine, CNFC, Dongwon Industries Co., Fujian Zhengguan Fishery Development Co., Jeong-IL Corp., Liaoning Pelagic Fisheries Co., PescaChile, and Rimfrost, collectively representing 85 percent of the krill fishing industry in the Antarctic.

“I am pleased that ARK has paid close attention to data collection and monitoring aspects of its VRZ plan,” Ron Naveen, the CEO of Oceanites, a nonprofit that conducts scientific efforts to survey krill stocks in the Southern Ocean. “Indeed, ARK has highlighted the conclusion of its expert panel that there are major data gaps making an assessment of the VRZs impossible without the implementation of a stratified, long-term program that monitors key elements of the ecosystem (e.g. penguin productivity at key sites, whale-fishery interactions) and that such a program also would assist an evaluation of any other conservation measures that may be proposed. Oceanites is proceeding to fashion such a program and looks forward to working with ARK members … to ensure its success.”

Aker BioMarine Antarctic Affairs Director Pål Skogrand, said it was important for the industry to show it can be a responsible environmental steward.

“Nature is changing fast in Antarctica – faster than policy and regulation is able to understand and keep up with,” Skogrand said. “When the krill industry moves to an all-year closure ahead of its time, this is a necessary precautionary action that we take because we can. To get things right in Antarctica, we need to move outside of our comfort zones and develop ‘shared ownership’ of crucial conservation concepts across industry, governments, and NGOs.”

Image courtesy of Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies


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