US, EU to push harder for proposed Antarctic marine protected areas

Published on
May 7, 2021

The United States recently announced it was joining the European Union and several other countries in pushing for the designation of two marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Both the U.S. and the E.U. now officially support the creation of the East Antarctic and Weddell Sea MPAs, to be overseen by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The designations would move the world nearly 1 percent closer to achieving the goal of protecting 30 percent of the global ocean, called for in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and recently adopted as an official policy goal of the United States in an executive order issued by President Joe Biden.

But Dimitri Sclabos, head of krill-oil consultancy Tharos, based in Chile (a CCAMLR member-state), said the designation of new MPAs should not be “a zero-sum game.”

“MPAs are here to stay, they will grow in number, will cover a larger area, and will not stop all fishing, conservationists’ final goal. And it should be that way, in my opinion,” he told SeafoodSource. “Conservation and a well-managed commercial activity should work together, not one over the other.”

CCAMLR members China and Russia – both countries with plans to grow their krill-fishing capacity – will have to assent to the creation of the new MPAs, and have indicated in the past that they will not consent to a closure of fisheries in any new designation. Jockeying for stocks of krill has become a proxy for a wider geopolitical competition, which has prevented consensus on new marine protected areas at CCAMLR meetings in recent years.

Made up of 25 states plus the E.U., CCAMLR has debated the creation of new MPAs since 2002. Privately, members have accused each other of harboring long-term strategies to exploit Antarctica’s energy resources as well as its territory for faster maritime travel at a time of warming oceans.

Norway leads the world in terms of volume of its annual krill catch, followed by China, which has been aggressively expanding its krill fleet in recent years. Sclabos previously told SeafoodSource that new MPAs that prohibit fishing would reduce the total potential krill catch by 80 percent and he has said fishery is well enough managed to be allowed continue in any new MPA.

“All this [CCAMLR] data is open for public scrutiny,” Sclabos said. “Which other fishery management organization does that? [Impeding] the best managed fishery in the world and the organization that takes care of it, the CCAMLR, is wrong.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the world’s largest and most impactful environmental non-governmental organizations, has backed the effort to create the MPAs.

"The Southern Ocean is one of the last great wilderness areas on the planet,” Pew’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean Director Andrea Kavanagh said. “Its cold deep currents not only carry nutrients to feed many of the world's fisheries, but they also regulate heat distribution around the globe. And its waters store carbon in ways we have just begun to understand.”

Movements in the region are governed by the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 to ensure "in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord."

Photo courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts

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