Krill industry seeks to preempt MPAs with own conservation initiatives in Antarctic

Krill on the shores of Antarctica.

The krill-fishing industry wants acknowledgement of its voluntary conservation and data-collection efforts before any agreement is reached on new marine protected areas in the Antarctic.

The U.S. recently renewed its support for the declaration of new marine protected areas (MPAs) as part of a broader push to delineate 30 percent of global marine space as protected. However, China and Russia have in recent years objected to the establishment of further MPAs by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in the Antarctic region under a treaty signed in 1959.

In April, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry announced the U.S. would join the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, and Uruguay – all members of the CCAMLR alongside China, Russia, and Chile – to push for the designation of the East Antarctic MPA and Weddell Sea MPA, which together would protect more than three million square kilometers of the Southern Ocean.

MPAs are “necessary for the wider legitimacy of Antarctic marine management and policy” but aren’t the only tool serving that purpose, according to Pål Einar Skogrand, director of sustainability and Antarctic affairs at Aker BioMarine, the biggest krill harvester in the Antarctic region.

There are “complementary tools to MPAs in the toolbox,” said Skogrand, who thinks fixed protection zones like MPAs are “square pegs in round holes” when it comes to protecting “hugely mobile” krill, seals, and whales. 

Each of three proposed MPAs have boundaries drawn with management recommendations for each area, delineating areas where fishing and research fishing are allowed. Andrea Kavanagh, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation work, told SeafoodSource the recommendations are based on 10 years of research showing MPAs, by offering “protected migration routes and range shifts,” can “help vulnerable ecosystems build resilience to climate change by eliminating additional stresses such as fishing.”

Skogrand told SeafoodSource the fishing industry has made extensive efforts to responsibly manage and measure krill resources in the Antarctic, which he said have been completed in the absence of CCAMLR consensus on conservation regulations. He detailed the industry’s role in collecting data on international krill stocks and to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies voluntary commitments to create and adhere to seasonal fishing closures off the Antarctic Peninsula

“We have restricted harvesting in an area of 74,000 kilometers squared in the Antarctic Peninsula during penguin breeding season, including all-year closure around one of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the region,” Skogrand said. “With this precautionary action, we have put in place the only purely spatial resolution for the krill fishery as of today, showing that industry can be early movers where regulation is lagging.”

A proposed East Antarctica MPA covering 970,000 square kilometers would encompass both no-take zones and areas where fishing is allowed. An Antarctic Peninsula MPA would likewise incorporate areas where fishing is both allowed and where it is prohibited, through the use of a zoning system. Similarly, the proposed Weddell Sea MPA – covering 2.2 million square kilometers – would incorporate fishing, fishing research, and protected (non-fishing) zones.

This spring, in backing the push for the new MPAS, Pew described the Southern Ocean as “one of the least-altered marine ecosystems on Earth.

“Encompassing 10 percent of the world’s oceans, this region surrounding Antarctica is home to thousands of species found nowhere else,” it said.

But while environmental non-governmental organizations, including Pew, have generally had a harmonious relationship with fishing companies currently operating in the Antarctic, new players are coming onto the scene that could disrupt the status quo.

Currently, Aker Biomarine supplies krill to buyers in China, where growth in demand for krill has risen, in part to its use in medicine and dietary supplements. However, several Chinese fishing firms have been constructing their own krill-fishing vessels. Finnish-based Wärtsilä Ship Design Company has designed two krill-processing vessels for its client Shanghai Chong He Industry Group, which has described the operational vessel, the Shen Lan, as the world’s largest purpose-built vessel for fishing Antarctic krill. Liaoning Province Dalian Ocean Fishery Group Co. (also known as Liaoyu Group) is also building a new krill fishing and processing vessel and Chinese distant-water fishing firm Pingtan Marine has indicated an intention to enter the krill sector. Russia is also exploring on expansion into the Antarctic krill fishery as part of a national strategy to increase domestic seafood production.

Dimitri Sclabos, general manager of krill consultancy Tharos Company, told SeafoodSource he sees strong opposition from fishing firms to a new Weddell Sea MPA.

“Being this is currently a fishing zone, contestants will pile up,” Sclabos said. “If there is a move to impose quotas based on historical fishing, that will be a fight worth seeing. It would also bring a heavier fishing effort to FAO58 [a Food and Agriculture Organization demarcation which encompasses the Antarctic and Southern Indian Ocean], where Russia ended an extensive biomass assessment that was published last year.”

Krill industry players oppose a “binary management where MPAs become de-facto no-fishing areas no matter what science says to the contrary,” Sclabos said.

Elements of the Antarctic Treaty come up for review in 2048, and a potential revision could mean changes like new voting models for CCAMLR, which be a determining factor in whether the MPAs are approved, Sclabos said, as currently the governing body requires full consensus from all its members before it takes any action.

Photo courtesy of LouieLea/Shutterstock


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